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Sand Cloud

Watch how Sand Cloud uses a brand ambassador program to scale their ecommerce brand.


About this episode:

Hear how Sand Cloud:

  • Built their brand ambassador program
  • How they use email to welcome brand ambassadors and keep them informed
  • Why they decided to focus away from paid influencers

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Full Transcript



Alicia Thomas: This week on Ready, Set, Grow, I’m in San Diego at Sand Cloud Towels. They’re a mission-driven company that has built an amazing brand ambassador program.

Brandon Leibel: We started back in 2014, we had a simple idea of a beach towel with a pillow inside. We used social media and all the free avenues of PR that we could to kind of grow the brand and grow the follower-base, and it’s evolved from there into a full lifestyle brand with apparel, accessories, over 100 SKUs. We got on Shark Tank and we bootstrapped it to this point to a pretty solid foundation.

Alicia Thomas: I know your mission is really important to Sand Cloud. Can you talk a little bit about that and why you decided to be a mission-driven brand?

Brandon Leibel: Yeah, from day one, we knew that we had to have a mission in order to really build a loyal fan-base. We looked up to companies like Toms for their mission-based brand. We picked marine life because living in San Diego and starting the brand on the beach had just made sense. We felt like that was a community that was interested in our brand is the community that is also interested in that mission, so we’ve just been true to that since day one. We’ve try to come out with recycled products. Products like reusable water bottles and straws and things that do have an impact in the environment.

Julie Aschidamini: 10% of our profits go towards ocean conservation partners and non-profits that help support our mission, so partners that either help pull trash out of the ocean or turn trash into art, as well as, help rehabilitate sea life.

Alicia Thomas: I think the idea of having a community-based brand, mission-based brand, is one that’s really gaining popularity over the years, and I would say you’re probably one of the earlier adopters. You’ve been in business for about five years. Can you talk about kind of launching your Ambassador Program and what that looked like?

Brandon Leibel: We just knew that building a community of people that believe in your mission, and not just your products, is kind of how to build a successful company for the long-term. Instead of focusing on big Instagram influencers and just people that have a lot of followers, we focused on the normal, everyday person that just enjoyed the beach and we thought would like our mission.

Brandon Leibel: So built the Ambassador Program by just walking the beaches and handing out towels to people on the beach and getting them to follow us on Instagram, and then we learned about ways to grow accounts on Instagram and getting kind of savvy with having contests and having hashtagging and all that stuff.

Brandon Leibel:Then we took it to the next level where we decided we wanted to scale that. Instead of just walking the beaches, how do we reach more people? So for a year straight, the three of us, before we had anyone working for us, we would just message people on Instagram all day for like 10 hours a day. We probably messaged a few hundred thousand people, and that organically took us to like 50,000 followers on Instagram. That year, we did $400,000 in sales by just that approach and that’s what built the foundation of our Ambassador Program.

Alicia Thomas: I know your Ambassador Program is really essential for the business, can you tell me a little bit about how you set that up and what it looks like?

Julie Aschidamini: Our Ambassador Program is a way for people to stay in touch with our brand. We reach out to them and ask them to join our team to be a part of mission to help spread the word about ocean conversation. Really, we started by going through Instagram and handpicking people, reaching out to them based off of what they had in their profile, if they talked about marine life or ocean conservation, then we would reach out to them and get them to join our program.

Julie Aschidamini: Another thing that our brand ambassadors do is they help support our non-profits. So anytime our non-profits have any kind of events or whatever, we send the message out to them and they help us spread that word amongst their communities to let them know about things that are happening with the non-profits. We actually reward them with points as well as discounts for products so that they can be incentivized to help spread that word.

Alicia Thomas: How have you built out that points program for the Ambassador Program? Is it something you’re using software for or, how are you measuring that?

Julie Aschidamini: Yeah, so we actually utilize our email program, Klaviyo, to put together … We have a flow that’s set up for once our ambassadors sign on board. So we actually have seven different messages that go out to them based on their behavior. Really a couple of messages talk about our mission, other messages talk about the reward points system and also their discounts. So we’re able to use our email platform to communicate everything that we need to without having to worry about sending individual messages to each of those people.

Alicia Thomas: Have you done any testing on your email flow or have you said like, “These seven messages are where it’s at.”

Julie Aschidamini: We test all the time, we change all the time. So what’s great about our email platform is that we’re able to put in AB testing into the subject lines, into the actual emails. So, if we have an idea for something like adding an emoji to a subject line or whatever, we’ll throw that in there and see how it does. We can actually tailor down the dates that we’re looking at and the revenue that comes in and see what’s performing better.

Alicia Thomas: And are those sort of metrics you’re looking for to evaluate if an email is performing well, is it opens and clicks, is it revenue for certain email? Kind of, what is your standard of, this is working or it’s not?

Julie Aschidamini: It’s kind of everything. We look at opens, we look at clicks, we look at revenue. We want to make sure that if it’s not being opened, why is that? Can we change a subject line? If it’s not being clicked, maybe the creatives not great, and then ultimately, if the revenue comes in, is it the products that we’re offering or whatever, on that end.

Alicia Thomas: So I know you do a lot of community involvement with your ambassadors, can you talk about how you’re using them to make decisions about what products you’ll have and other choices with the company?

Julie Aschidamini: Yeah, so that’s a really awesome part of our business is that we actually have ambassador groups, both on Facebook and in Instagram, and we’re constantly working with our design team and giving concepts of products that we’re creating and saying, “Hey, do you like this or do you like this one?” And so they can vote on it and we really take that feedback back to our design team and say, “Okay, they love this, but they’re not so sure about this,” and then we’ll change things up.

Alicia Thomas: So if you were talking to someone who is just starting an ambassador program at an e-commerce brand, what advice would you have for them?

Julie Aschidamini: I would say listening to your ambassadors is a very big thing. They’ve been very helpful in our business. Making sure that you’re speaking to them genuinely in what they care about is super important. Our Ambassador Program is really the core to our business as well as our mission, so it’s great to have that a part of any business. They’re advocates for your brand and they’re able to spread the word a lot further than you would with some traditional marketing strategies.

Alicia Thomas: I think a lot of people automatically want to go to influencers with paid sponsorships, and this is such a different approach to that. Have you tried any paid promotions with influencers in the past and kind of can you talk a little bit about that?

Julie Aschidamini : Sure. With all brands, I feel like it really fluctuates. One influencer isn’t going to work for every single brand, so what the trend is kind of saying now is that people are going away from those really big influencers and they’re starting to go to those micro or nano-influencers. Because the people who have 1,000 followers, probably have a 1,000 really close people that trust their opinion. So I would say being able to have more influencers that have smaller networks that’s kind of where the trend is going in marketing.

Alicia Thomas: So really those quality relationships and scale versus just massive amounts of people?

Julie Aschidamini: Exactly.

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