"DTC Brands Shouldn't Fear Over-Messaging:" eCommerce Strategies with Jordan West

"DTC Brands Shouldn't Fear Over-Messaging:" eCommerce Strategies with Jordan West
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In this episode of Inbox Invaders, we're joined by Jordan West, Founder and CEO of upGrowth Commerce, as he shares his invaluable insights into the world of e-commerce. Jordan explains effective messaging strategies, the role of AI in marketing, and the secrets to building a loyal customer base.

Key takeaways:

1. Effective Messaging Strategies: Learn why over-messaging can be detrimental and how to find the perfect balance in your email and SMS campaigns.
2. AI in Marketing: Discover the potential and limitations of AI in e-commerce and why human psychology still plays a crucial role.
3. Building Loyal Customers: Understand the importance of treating your VIP customers with personalized attention and meaningful interactions.
4. Incremental Revenue Growth: Explore the concept of incremental revenue and how to measure the true impact of your loyalty programs.
5. Customer Journey Mapping: Get insights on how to map out the customer journey to create a seamless and engaging experience.
6. Community Building: Learn the power of creating a community around your brand and how it can lead to organic growth and strong word-of-mouth referrals.
7. Balancing Automation and Personalization: Find out how to automate your loyalty programs effectively while maintaining a personal touch.

Wiehan Britz, CEO, Magnet Monster: Today, I have a super special guest joining me. I've been following him on LinkedIn for quite some time, and finally, he made it to the show. Jordan West, podcast host, e-commerce business owner, agency owner, mountain bike rider—congratulations on, I think, it's episode number 560 that launched today. Amazing. Anyway, thanks for joining me on the show. Appreciate it.

Jordan West, Founder and CEO, upGrowth Commerce: Absolutely. That's right. Yeah. It just kind of keeps going and going. At this point, with the number of episodes, it's like, "All right, we're going to hit a thousand at some point here."

Wiehan: That is amazing—560 episodes! I'm sure over the years, you've probably formulated some framework because I know in the beginning it's quite challenging with all the logistics around it, getting, communicating, aligning with your guests and topics. What a good achievement.

Jordan: It's one of those things that once you start doing it, you realize what actually works and what doesn't. I have a team behind me, and every single episode is usually sponsored, so we have the finances to support it. For me, it used to be like, "Hey, we're going to talk about these specific things." Now, it's more like jazz—you know the notes, so you can play within them. I have great guests on all the time. I'm probably going to have a Shark Tank person on soon to chat. Some pretty cool guests that I've been able to have over the years, and I really enjoy doing that. So great to be on here.

Wiehan: That's amazing. Thanks so much for inviting me. I can't wait to tap into some of your knowledge and insights. You are already sharing so much with the community. For you to come on the show and share your insights on what we're going to be discussing is pretty cool. On that note, I'm going to deep dive into some of these topics. We're going to be covering two topics today. Feel free to lay it on the table here. I know you love to spill the guts and be super honest about things. Your recent Sendlane versus Klaviyo conversation was a beautiful podcast.

The first topic I want to unpack and learn more from you is the issue I'm seeing within many e-commerce accounts that we audit on a weekly, daily basis. We are in the email, SMS, retention marketing space, so we play in a similar space.

The problem is we can't control the touchpoints and stages of customers throughout their buying journey. What ends up happening is because no one has a great pulse on it, we just throw everything at them—SMS messages, email messages. The touchpoints are wild. We sometimes see accounts where a cart abandonment flow would have four or five emails and two SMS touchpoints. If someone triggers that, they will receive five to six emails in the space of two days and two SMS. Then, they also trigger a post-purchase flow. It's just bonkers. I want to cover messaging overload. What have you seen in the past? What are you currently seeing? What's working and what's not working from your point of view?

Jordan: That's a really interesting question. Thanks for bringing that up. There's actually the opposite side of things. There are a lot of brands, especially the ones we grew up with and the brand my wife started and scaled. The issue for a lot of people is they don't want to send very many messages.

They'll send maybe one message a week or one every two weeks. That, to me, is a much bigger issue than sending every day. I'd always err on the side of sending more because of deliverability. If you're not sending enough messages, people will forget about you. Your brand is not that special that people are waiting for that message. You need to stay top of mind. If people don't want to hear from you, make it explicit on how to unsubscribe.

I just got my newsletter up and running in a big way. In the newsletter, at the very beginning, I say, "Hey, if this is not of value, please unsubscribe. I don't want you receiving this message every day." Lo and behold, on the first couple of newsletters, I had about 300 unsubscribes. The list is still about 10,000 people, which I think is pretty good in our space.

Now, the open rate and click-through rate are great because I don't want to be sending to people who don't want to hear from me. That's why I don't understand services like retention.com. Feeding those emails back to people who don't want to hear about you makes no sense. These people don't want to hear from you. Why are you overloading them with messages?

Instead, make sure people don't need to be reminded four times about their abandoned cart. They need a nudge here and there, but that can be done in better ways than constant abandoned cart flows. That's where marketing in general comes in. Always make sure you're running ads on multiple platforms. That is incredibly important. I don't recommend running pure retargeting these days because the platforms will do that for you, but making sure you show up everywhere is crucial.

I have made so many purchases by continually seeing that brand, whether it's in my inbox or on Meta. It's really important. Just one more small point here—how many times do you make a purchase immediately? Brands sometimes think that because they optimize for a one-day click or one-day view conversion, people convert in one day. If you have a product that someone saw for the first time and grabbed immediately, that's junk. People are going to take time to convert, especially if your average order value is above a hundred bucks. When's the last time you made a flash purchase? It doesn't happen. That's why post-purchase surveys are so helpful to see how long people have known about you.

For our baby clothing brand, people generally knew about us for an average of 37 days before purchasing. That's not going to show up in a pixel or tracking. Yes, you need that hard-hitting abandoned cart email, but it's so much more than that. It's about why someone is purchasing your product instead of something cheap on Amazon. You need to differentiate. I like to go into reviews, the why behind the product, maybe some video, maybe a personalized video. There are so many cool ways to do this. Sorry, I've monologued for a while, but I wanted to make sure to get those points out.

Wiehan: On that topic, should we talk about attribution modeling? No, let's not talk about attributions. Okay. So, I mean, we could, but let's not. We've got a time cap here. I think you've covered so many good points here, and I want to touch on some of them. I like how you've reversed my question and approached it from the angle of potentially under-sending. That's a very interesting question.

We also see that dilemma. Not saying that you should just ramp it up and go wild, but I like how you highlighted some tactics to manage messaging overload. Give people the option to opt out, like you said. Allow them to select their frequency—how often do they want to see emails from us? Give them the options to select their preference. How do they want to receive emails from us? I love that.

And then, also, you mentioned deliverability. Nowadays, you can monitor those performances. If you see certain spikes in certain things, there's a potential signal that you're doing it wrong. But if you don't hit those snags and issues, you need to be in front of people. I get what you're saying—you don't want to fade in someone's inbox and let your competitor brands be the ones sending emails every day. You also want to be top of mind. I think you cover so many good parts of this conversation.

Jordan: Thank you. I think there's just a lot to think about as a brand owner. It's not just a matter of deciding how many emails to send. It's about understanding why you are sending them and what the point of that email is. If the point is just to get someone to convert, we all know what it's like being in a situation where you're constantly being asked to buy. It's like being in Mexico, where everywhere you go, it's "buy, buy, buy from me." You just get annoyed with that after a while because that's not what you want to do with a brand. If that's the case, just go to Amazon. That's a buy-from-me place, and that's fine. But in D2C land, you're building a brand, which is much different than just selling a product. There are two completely different things.

Wiehan: So, of course, we want to be pragmatic about this. Is there a science to this? Is there a framework that someone can apply to messaging touchpoints and planning it out? Or do you feel like it is still a bit of a feel? You mentioned that someone shouldn't receive four cart abandonment emails. How much is needed then? What is that number? What is that framework? Is there something, or do you believe there's no science behind it?

Jordan: I'm sure there is a framework. Do I have one? No, I don't. What it comes down to is actually thinking about the customer journey. I am all about frameworks. If anyone has followed me online for any time, I have frameworks that I love to give to people. But I think sometimes it's not necessarily a mathematical equation. It's about thinking where this fits in the actual customer journey and how we go from someone not knowing anything about us to becoming a raving fan. There are a lot of steps in between. If you go from not knowing about you straight to a marriage proposal, you're a creep. You need to think about those relational steps. People who understand relationships and how to navigate them are generally good marketers. They understand what needs to happen and what the person needs to see.

Maybe it's a personalized email that asks a question begging for a response. Maybe it's getting them from email and SMS into a VIP group. I've been a big proponent of VIP groups over the years, deepening the relationship that way. It's not just a one-to-many channel, but a channel where they can talk back and forth. SMS can be that as well. Moving people into a VIP group where they can talk amongst themselves is where you see brands absolutely explode.

Wiehan: Everybody is trying to get to that point. I think of brands that are the front runners when it comes to community, community, community. I like the idea of building brand loyalists and having them do some of the communication and outreach for you. I absolutely love that. Very good conversation. One or two more questions for you, then I'm happy to move on to the next subject.

Do you feel, and this is the question on everybody's mind, do you believe that AI, machine learning, and robots will help us control the messaging to our audiences? Or do you feel like it still needs some human intervention at this current stage?

Jordan: I think that the fact we're how many years into AI—probably 20 years or so—is interesting. My uncle has worked in AI since the early 2000s in AI development and has an incredible model that showed me how systems learn, which helped me realize how humans learn. An AI system never actually has the answer. It's just moving little bits back and forth as it gets feedback.

For perfectionists, it's interesting because it shows that we don't need to solve something all the time. We need to take as many at-bats. We were talking about some of my recent failures, and I'm like, are they really failures? Because it's another wall I came up against that, if I take the feedback, makes the AI system a little better. You don't get that system feedback without becoming better.

AI will become better than the best copywriter ever within the next year. I don't think there's a question. If anyone saw the demo of ChatGPT-4 and the nuance of humor the robot can have and how it can read facial cues, that's wild. It can copywrite, absolutely. Is it there right now? No, it still needs human intervention. It tips off that it's the robot. But as a starting point, it's brilliant right now. I would say it gets you about 80% of the way there. The problem is making sure you're not leaning too heavily on it so you don't lose the sense of what good copy looks like.

I've never written a single LinkedIn post, Twitter post, or newsletter with AI. It doesn't make sense to me. I want to use my voice. That little bit makes a difference. In a year, that might change. But an AI can't replicate your unique experience stack. Humans will always win with their unique experiences. For me, owning a restaurant, being a paramedic for 12 years, owning six different brands, an agency, Airbnbs, and rentals, being close to bankruptcy—all of these things make a unique stack to talk from. An AI can't do that because it doesn't have experience. Sorry for another long-winded answer.

Wiehan Britz: I think you're absolutely nailing it. I was in a recent chat with the guys over at Wild. They're building a predictive analytics model that aims to be better than Klaviyo's predictive analytics to determine when the next purchase is likely to happen for a particular person, striking them at the right time. Klaviyo's predictive analytics is like Pandora's black box—you just don't know what goes into it. When you read the documentation, you see it's all just patterns trying to simulate off certain data sets. This doesn't help because, as one guy I chatted with pointed out, some DTC brand handed over control to Klaviyo's predictive analytics, which ended up over-messaging people. The system couldn't figure out when to target people to win them back, resulting in six or seven win-back emails. So, you're right; AI is a good starting point but will never replace human thinking and psychology.

Jordan West: Yeah, I like that. I'm not saying we won't get there at some point. It's interesting. I've just read the Elon Musk biography, and he believes that AI will never replace human consciousness. Whereas Larry Page at Google thinks that's being specious, as though AI is some species you don't want. Personally, I don't think we're quite there yet, but we could look back in 20 years and laugh at this. So who knows?

Wiehan: I'm with you. It's exciting times. The second topic, and I know you recently had a very interesting conversation around this, is loyalty programs, reward programs, and referral programs. The question I want to put out there, and I talk to different eCommerce founders, agency guys, SaaS companies, and different solutions, is: Are traditional loyalty programs dead? You've touched on community and VIP stuff, which leads to how you treat these people with special treatment and so on. Are traditional loyalty programs dead?

Jordan: No, they aren't. But I don't think they're at the top. I don't think they're necessarily dead; I just don't know if they actually drive incremental revenue for small DTC brands. That's the biggest issue I have. I would much rather see people going really deep with a smaller amount of customers. For example, at our baby clothing brand, we had "the crew." The crew got a certain amount of discount. Every time we had a drop, they got access first, made content for that drop, and were affiliates who could make money if someone used their link or co-branded landing page. Those are really interesting ways to create loyalty. I would much rather have a hundred raving fans than a thousand mediocre fans. That's much more important.

Wiehan: Absolutely. Focusing on building those raving fans is crucial. How do you measure if you're doing this right?

Jordan: To know if you're doing this right, have a post-purchase survey and ask where people found out about you. If it's not at least 40% word of mouth, you probably don't have a good product, or you may not have raving fans yet. Pouring into those people is incredibly important. Don't just call people your VIPs; actually treat them like VIPs. If they're your VIPs, send them a gift card and say, "Hey, I sent you a gift card. Can we hop on the phone and chat? I'd love to hear what you think about what we're doing." Those things get me much more excited.

Wiehan: Love that. Just to back up your statement, I was on a recent demo call with a person from a loyalty program software company. They showed me numbers from a D2C brand where they stream Shopify data through the platform, breaking people into different cohorts. The loyalty cohort had an LTV of around $500, while the rest were sitting at $90 or $85. The loyalty group contributed to 45% of the entire revenue. It's interesting, as you're saying, to treat them differently—actually giving early access, jumping on the phone. That's interesting.

Jordan: Yeah, just treat them like a VIP.

Wiehan: So, in saying that, this entire tiered system, like automating loyalty programs—if you hit a certain tier, an email goes out saying, "Hey, you're now part of the silver tier"—do you think that's BS or do you think there's still space for baking that into the system? Should people be automatically enrolled if they hit certain tiers, given that you want to scale your loyalty program? Do parts of that need rethinking?

Jordan: I think it's about knowing your customer really well. If you understand your avatar, it makes it easier to determine how they want to be communicated with. Personally, I want some autonomy and choice, which is why I don't love the idea of services like retention.com. I don't want to be suddenly subscribed to an email series that I'm not part of. So, do I think you should cut your loyalty program? No. But measure its incrementality. Is it driving incremental new revenue? If not, rethink it. If it's taking you away from pouring into your actual VIPs, don't do it. That's my recommendation.

Wiehan: I love that. Talking about incremental growth, have you ever done a holdout test where you treat some VIP buyers with incentives and others without? How do you actually measure incremental growth?

Jordan: I have not done that personally, but there are platforms like Toki for loyalty where you can do some holdout work. Definitely recommend checking that one out. But no, I've never personally done that holdout before.

Wiehan: It's always a struggle to measure the incremental lift, much like email attribution—when is it really the email driving the purchase versus the customer buying anyway?

Jordan: Yes, totally. I love that. Very cool. Listen, man, thank you so much for bringing your insights to the table. We've had some good conversations around over-messaging. My takeaway is don't be scared to send a lot of emails. It kind of opens my eyes because I tend to be on the side of stopping excessive emails, but I'm not the customer. I love that you kicked it off with "don't be scared to send emails" because that's also a problem. And then with loyalty programs, make it personal. Don't just plonk an off-the-shelf program onto your loyalists and expect magic.

Jordan: Totally. Thanks so much for having me on. This was a blast, and I hope this brought some value to people.

Wiehan: Absolutely. I appreciate it. How can people stay in touch with you? Do a bit of a plug here because who doesn't want to be connected with you? Come on.

Jordan: Well, you can listen to my podcast, Seekers to Scaling Your eCommerce Brand, on all major platforms. Spotify is a great place to listen to us. You can reach out to me at upgrowthcommerce.com. I'm very active on LinkedIn and Twitter. If you search Jordan West in those places, you'll find me.

Wiehan: I love it. I know mountain biking is a big thing for you. When's the next event? When can people join the next ride?

Jordan: I'm hoping my bike will be fixed today. I had to take it in for a big service, and it's been gone for two weeks. So, I'm itching to get back out there.

Wiehan: That's exactly why I'm not mountain biking—constantly dealing with flat tires or broken chains. Mine is always out of service. It's still worth it. Appreciate you and everything you're doing for the community. Thanks again.

Wiehan: Absolutely. See you later. Cheers, man. All the best. Bye.


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