Episode 160

The Future Of Ecommerce: Consumer Privacy, Successful Business Models, & High-Converting Content

Austin Brawner - Ecommerce Influence
May 11, 2021
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This is a special episode. My very first podcast appearance as a guest was on Austin Brawner’s Ecommerce Influence podcast back in 2015. Austin is one of the sharpest minds in Ecommerce. He’s either friends with or has consulted with some of the biggest names in DTC Ecomm like MVMT Watches, Pura Vida Bracelets, Snack Nation, and many more. On this episode, Austin and I interview each other! We dive into some pretty wide-ranging, but highly relevant topics. Including:

  • Why Austin is so excited about subscription businesses and who’s running them well
  • How different business models could be your next growth evolution
  • How privacy could create a renaissance of sorts when it comes to the value of good ad creatives
  • How pricey changes will impact audience building and audience targeting
  • Formulas for creating high-converting content
  • Shifting your role in business to greater growth

Plus more!

Brett Curry

Via LinkedIn

Austin Brawner

Via LinkedIn

The eCommerce Influence Podcast

Mentioned in this episode:

Ezra Firestone

Traffic & Conversion Summit

MVMT Watches

Pura Vida Bracelets

Chris Lynch

Everyday California

FLoC

Custom Intent Audience

Avinash Kaushik

“Made to Stick” by Chip Heath

OMG’s YouTube Ad Examples and Templates

Val Geisler

Klaviyo

Jay Abraham

Three Ways to Grow a Business

BOOM! by Cindy Joseph

Verb Energy

John Warrillow

“Built to Sell” by John Warrillow

“The Automatic Customer” by John Warrillow

“The Art of Selling Your Business” by John Warrillow

Hammacher Schlemmer

Onyx Coffee

Josh Snow

Sarah Still

Episode Transcript

Brett:

Well hello, and welcome to another edition of the E-commerce Evolution Podcast. I'm your host, Brett Curry, CEO of OMG Commerce. Today's episode is different, you get not one E-commerce podcast host, but two. I have my good friend, Austin Brawner on the show today and this is a joint podcast, a fusion of the E-commerce Evolution Podcast and Austin's podcast, E-commerce Influence. It was one of the first podcasts I was ever a guest on, believe it or not. So we decided to do this podcast together. I interview him, he interviews me, and I think you'll find it to be a lot of fun.

Brett:

Now, a quick background on Austin. I first met Austin at an E-commerce event we both spoke at. I think it was about 2013, I think it was Ezra Firestone's, one of his first events, and that's were we met each other. Then Austin and I had this dinner after Traffic and Conversion Summit one year. It was a dinner that Austin put together and it was the who's who of cool E-commerce brands. Guys from Movement Watches were there, guys from Pura Vida Bracelets were there, my buddy Chris Lynch from Every Day California was there, a couple of big agency people. It was really, it was a ton of fun, Austin put it all together. It just shows you how connected he is in the E-commerce space.

Brett:

So I do want to mention, you've got to listen to E-commerce Influence. He interviews founders like the ones I just mentioned, and he's a brilliant podcast host as you'll soon hear as we dive into this episode. So we really cover a wide range of topics. We talk about privacy and iOS 14 and what that means for digital ads. We talk about creatives and what my approach is to crafting great video ads. We talk about things like subscriptions and E-commerce business models that we're excited about, and where do we see things headed in the E-commerce world. So I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed recording it. So with that, let's dive right in, listen to this joint podcast with Austin Bronner from E-commerce Influence.

Austin:

Brett, excited to chat with you, man. It's been quite some time. We were just reminiscing, I think the last time we saw each other in person was probably at Traffic into Conversion Summit years ago with dinner with Steve and Drew? Was that the last time?

Brett:

I think so, yeah. So in person's been years, it's been too long virtually as well for podcasts and stuff. I know we send people to each other, we're like, "Hey, you need to talk to Austin for this," or you send people to me, but it's been entirely too long. So I'm really glad we're doing this right now, yeah.

Austin:

Yeah, man. It's definitely exciting, and yeah, lots has changed. This episode today, we wanted to hop on and connect and do a joint episode where we talk a little bit about some of the exciting things that are happening in E-commerce related to privacy. I say exciting because they're exciting for some people and not for others.

Brett:

Terrifying and nerve racking and anxiety inducing but also interesting. I think it'll be one of those moments, some watershed moment, whatever you want to call it, where it likely will create some true winners and losers and it's going to be interesting for sure.

Austin:

So yeah, so we're going to cover, we'll talk about that and we'll talk about also what we're excited about, things that we're seeing happening and I don't know, general trends and what's going on. It's a good time to catch up and dive into that.

Austin:

So I want to start by turning it over to you because you are in the ad buying world a little bit more than I am, on the front lines of the ad buying world. What is going on with some of the privacy changes? What are things that people need to know about? I have a little hesitation because there's a lot of talk about this, but we can get really nerdy, but overall, what is going on? What do you see is... what should people care about right now as we see all these privacy changes?

Brett:

Yeah, it's such a good question. I think the strongest word to use right now is uncertainty. We don't know exactly what's going to happen or how this is going to play out. We hear all types of plans that different platforms have. You got Facebook throwing up their arms and saying, "Hey, this is going to be unfair," all the privacy changes from iOS 14 and things like that. Google's announcing different things they're going to be testing and experimenting to try to get around some of these privacy things. They announced no more cookies starting next year, so we're moving away from cookie based targeting all together. So it's really interesting times.

Brett:

Just to give a little context, I'm a Google and YouTube guy, so we do some Facebook but I don't really get into Facebook so I can't speak personally with too much expertise there. We do a lot on the Amazon side as well, but Google's experimenting with things like, I don't know, Austin, have you heard of FLoC? Have you heard of Google... this will be slightly nerdy but just a little bit. Not enough to put anyone to sleep, but slightly nerdy. So as Google's moving away from cookies and targeting individuals, they're talking about how to target groups of people where identities are private and cloaked and stuff.

Brett:

So FLoC, it's an acronym and I think it's an acronym that I think they thought of the acronym first and then tried to fill in the meaning, because-

Austin:

Sounds like they definitely did that.

Brett:

Yeah, because it's Federated Learning of Cohorts. I'm like, okay, that's interesting, but basically what they're doing is they're saying, "Hey, instead of targeting individuals and based on behavior, based on search behavior, based on websites they visit, things like that, we're just going to put people into these flocks or these groups based on behavior but it'll all be anonymized and stuff." Anyway, so Google is saying, "Hey, early tests show the performance of FLoC is 95% as good as what we're doing now," but then you hear from browsers like Firefox and Microsoft Edge and a few others that are saying, "Yeah, we're probably not going to implement that. We're not going to use the FLoC technology." So then that technology would just be available on Chrome, as an example.

Brett:

So I think the bottom line is there's just uncertainty. The way there's been this trend where marketers have been able to give more and more control to the algorithms and to machine learning and just let the machine, let Google, let Facebook decide what to do. We may see a decent pivot away from that, at least for a time and at least to a certain degree, or maybe old school marketing comes back into vogue, or maybe some of the old ways of targeting become more valuable. Where it's all about building an email list and where it's more about the creative than it is anything else. So yeah, I think uncertainty really captures it, and we may see a renaissance of sorts in some forms of advertising. We can unpack a lot more there, but that's just a general first thought.

Austin:

I'm excited to dive into all of those things. I want to go just to the privacy side where like you said at the beginning, they're making changes. Where are they making changes, at what level? At least, what are you familiar with? What are some of the big, I guess, top level changes that are being made?

Brett:

Yeah, so right now if you look at Google search and Google shopping, so query based marketing, search based marketing. I don't think that's going to change a whole lot. We're not seeing any changes right now. We're talking to our Google reps every couple of weeks about this and trying to stay up to date and stuff. Not seeing any changes there, not really seeing any changes on YouTube just yet, although you and I were talking the day of this recording, seeing some volatility, especially hearing some Facebook advertisers, some volatility right now.

Brett:

So some of the audiences we've relied on in the past, so I'll talk about a couple of my favorite audiences on the Google side. One is called Custom Intent or that was the original audience name, that's were you can build a group of people based on what they're searching for on Google. So that's a pretty cool signal to use, what you're searching for on Google is a pretty good signal of what you're interested in and whether you're in the market for something or looking for a solution or whatnot. So, those audiences-

Austin:

Like size 12 Nike Airs, it's like, you know that's something-

Brett:

Yeah, yeah, exactly. Right, so or we, like in another example, and I'll pick one here. We have a client that has a solution for kids who hate to brush their teeth, which as you know, Austin, I've got eight kids so I've got quite a bit of experience in this environment that sometimes you have to bribe, you have to threaten, you have to do hostage negotiations, whatever, to get kids to brush their teeth. So anyway, this client of ours, they have a product that's real easy to brush your teeth, kind of fun, it's like animals, and anyway. So we started doing some toothbrush targeting, people looking for toothbrushes. That didn't work. So then we started looking at, what about people who are just saying, "How do I get my kid to brush their teeth? What do I do when my kid refuses to brush their teeth?" So, that kind of Google keyword, and it's crushing it. So it's like, all right, you can get creative with what people are searching for.

Brett:

So, so far, those audiences still exist and they still work, but that's like, we don't know. Google's indicating, yeah, those audiences will still exist but they're going to be powered by FLoC or whatever. So-

Austin:

Which may not be adopted, which makes it the chance it could go away.

Brett:

Exactly, so that's the thing, it's really targeting is going to change, and attribution is going to change, where I know you and I could talk about attribution for a long time and it's a bit of a black box and a gray area and every marketer has a different opinion on how to properly work your attribution modeling, but that's likely going to get messier and harder. So I think audience targeting and attribution are the two biggest areas that are going to change.

Austin:

That's interesting. Yeah, I see a lot of where we're going. You talked about old school marketing and I think people have different ideas of what old school marketing is, depending on how old they are, but I think what we're going to see is... With all this stuff, frankly, I'm not that concerned. I think it's going to be more of a pain for... I think it's going to cause more disruption for advertising agencies and freelancers, than it is actually for business owners, because it'll change the way that things need to be done. With that shifting, it's going to involve... I don't know, I think the uncertainty is how we're going to get from point A to point B, not necessarily whether or not we're going to get to point B. Point B meaning, somebody making a purchase. People are still going to be buying things and advertising's still going to be effective. It's more like, how on earth are we going to... we've gotten used to doing things a certain way, now it's going to change.

Brett:

Yeah, and so as an agency and I'm very interested in your perspective. How do you think I'll impact agencies? I believe, I agree with you, by the way. I think you're right, but in what ways?

Austin:

I think the uncertainty is more of a challenge for the agency than it is for the business owner because... so the reason I think that is that the way systems, as you build an agency and you get larger and you've got all these systems to do things, you train people. There's just going to be more people involved with having to shift and adjust with that.

Brett:

Yeah, when your SOP's all changed, this is the way we've always done YouTube and now it's got to shift, if you're a nimble agency, great, if not very nimble, yeah, it's trouble.

Austin:

It'll be more internal. I think there's benefits and downsides as well, because you're also going to then get an opportunity to go through and revisit how you're doing things, which can be really helpful and can lead to making some improvements, but yeah. That's where I see some of the uncertainty, volatility happening and it can be challenging in that space.

Austin:

I think it's going to be interesting for business owners because they're going to have to figure it out and I think when you say old school, in my view, it's going to be back towards like, we're spoiled.

Brett:

Oh man,

Austin:

The fact that we can say, "Oh, I spent $1,000 and I made $2,211," even though that attribution is artificial.

Brett:

It's not perfect.

Austin:

It makes us feel good.

Brett:

It's definitely not perfect, yeah.

Austin:

Yes, it's not perfect but it makes us feel really good.

Brett:

Yeah, yeah.

Austin:

It makes us feel really good, oh, I'm putting this amount in and I'm getting this amount back out, where 50 years ago we weren't even thinking about that at all.

Brett:

Yeah, yeah, or just to go back a little bit. I'll date myself a little bit, I'm not that old of a guy, I do have a lot more gray in my beard that you do, Austin. Your beard has stayed the same, my beard has really gotten a lot grayer since the first time we did a podcast. Maybe it's the kids, or I don't know, but.

Austin:

Or a growing agency. It's the-

Austin:

It's the privacy changes, the privacy changes.

Brett:

Yeah, people on a team, exactly, I love them but yes. So back in the early 2000s, I was doing radio and TV and some other stuff, so I was working all with local regional businesses and running TV and radio ads and stuff. We could tell, the business owners could tell when the phone rang more, they could tell when more people came in the store, but attribution was a mess. We'd have people, we'd be running radio and direct to mail and people would come in and say, "Oh yeah, I saw your TV ad." We're like, we're not running TV, I don't know how you say a TV ad. So that was really imperfect attribution.

Brett:

So now even the tools we have, we are spoiled because even if they're not exact, they're directionally correct. It's at least indicating there's some impact from these campaigns and from these messages, where before it was substantially harder.

Austin:

I think back to the old school style, you see... So, one of the things I really think is great and has been relatively new in the last couple years innovation is, just going to surveys, post purchase surveys at the end of a checkout. It's like, you can build your own attribution model based on what's happening from a survey. You can look at your different... Actually, we were having a call last night for Intentional Wealth, which is my mastermind group. One of the guys was talking about, he was like, "I spent 45 hours looking at attribution over the last two weeks." We were all laughing, I was like-

Brett:

.. that sounds really fun, yeah.

Austin:

Yeah, we were all... he was joking around, but he was like, and he was like, "What I realized, I'm just trying to find my own model." He was like, "The reason I spend so much time is I'm looking at all the models to create my own model, and one that I can go forward with. I recognize that everyone's putting their thumb on the scale a little bit. So we'll figure out what works for me."

Brett:

Yeah, and one interesting thing I'll say about attribution is we're a Google Premier Partner, so top couple percent of Google agencies, and have been invited to Google Marketing Live, it's an agency event that Google hosts every year. Used to do that live, in person. I remember, it was maybe five years ago, something like that, Google announced... I was at the New York Google offices and they announced Google Attribution, and they were like, "This is going to be it. It's going to tie in, it'll use machine learning, it'll look at Google Analytics, it'll look at your ad accounts, and it will use machine learning to look at conversion, paths."

Brett:

So hey, Austin bought from the website and he clicked on a Facebook ad first, and then a Google ad, and then organic search, and then this. We're going to combine those and look at those, use machine learning, and say, "Here's what you should attribute to each platform." So it was like, everybody was excited, I was geeking out, I was telling everybody about it, but nothing really happened. Then the next year, at the next Google Marketing Live, Google's like, "Yeah, attribution, okay it was a little harder but we're working on it, it's coming." Then nothing.

Brett:

Then the third year, I'm like, what happened to Google Attribution? Someone said, "Well, there's a dude at a small booth back here who's the Google Attribution guy." It's like, it faded, it went away. I think it sort of still exists, but so if you've got the smartest people at Google working on Google Attribution and they still don't have a real good solution... and I know there's other third party solutions and stuff that help you try to get closer, but I think that just underscores, it's not an easy problem to untangle. It's not a... even with machine learning and stuff, it's pretty challenging.

Brett:

So I think if you can... and one of my favorite quotes on the topic comes from Avinash Kaushik, he was the Google Analytics evangelist, has written books and fantastic guy to listen to, but he said your goal was to be less wrong. Just work on being less wrong because you're never going to be exactly right. I like that perspective.

Austin:

I like it, until we're all micro chipped and we're transacting but via our eyeballs, look at what we look at.

Brett:

Right, right.

Austin:

There'll be perfect attribution.

Brett:

... Google homes listening, everything in our eyes are being tracked. Until that comes, which probably isn't too far away. Yeah, exactly.

Austin:

Or just flash pockets who transact. That's-

Brett:

It's really encouraging future we're talking about here, I'm really excited about where this is going.

Austin:

Oh man, well so outside of the privacy stuff, what else are you excited about? What are you seeing that's been cool, that's making you say, "Oh wow, that's interesting"?

Brett:

Yeah, so I'll start with and this is top of mind because I get to... So I'm CEO of the company, so I'm building a team and running things and I'm also still managing, or not managing, I'm in some client accounts, and so looking at stuff like that too, but I mentioned this earlier. I believe the creative side is going to be more and more important. What you say is so valuable.

Brett:

I remember and again, we're tying this back to old school, tying it back to the old days but I just remember a good TV ad or a good radio ad versus a mediocre one and just the huge response difference. So I think there's going to be a lot more dependency or good creatives. So that's something we're doubling down on, we're finding good videographers, good script writers and pulling them together to work on creative projects. So I'm super excited about that. I still think there's going to be ways to test and improve on the creative side, even if some of our audience targeting and audience measuring things go away.

Brett:

So I like that, I used to like infomercials as a kid, which is really weird. I enjoyed watching the Ginsu Knife commercials and some other nerdy stuff like that. So I really get into the creative side of it, and I think that's going to be coming back. So that's the first thing that comes to mind and I've got more so I'll get into that, but. What about you? What are you excited about right now?

Austin:

I have some stuff but I want to ask you some more about creative-

Brett:

yeah, yeah, yeah, great.

Austin:

... because the thing that came up for me was the unique perspective you've got with a large agency of, how do you pump out creative? What are the systems? What are the things that you guys do that people can learn from? Because it's hard, it's not... I think a lot of times people talk about just, you have better creative. That's freaking hard.

Brett:

It is, it is really hard.

Austin:

It's really hard to do it over and over and over and again, new and... So yeah, what have you learned about pumping out good creative?

Brett:

Yeah, I think a couple of things. One of my favorite books that I'll recommend is called, Made to Stick. Have you ever read that? Chip and Dan Heath?

Austin:

I haven't read it.

Brett:

Got to check it out. So one of the things that they do a really good job of talking about and highlighting is that the creativity can be formulaic and good communication can be formulaic. So there's a study they reference in the book where they say... they took the most successful ad campaigns in recent decades and they realized, we can classify all of these campaigns into six or seven different categories. They all follow a similar pattern.

Brett:

Then they looked at a whole bunch of ad campaigns that just flopped and they said, "We can't really categorize any of these. They're all bad for unique reasons," but good ads can be formulaic, not that you want to be just a me too or you want to just duplicate what Squatty Potty is doing or something or what a big YouTube or Facebook advertiser is doing, but you can learn from formulas. So I think that is one of those things that can free you up a little bit.

Brett:

So I actually got, I put together a free resource where we pulled in our favorite YouTube ads and categorized them and broke them down on how they work. So it's a free guide, it's on our site at omgcommerce.com, so check that out.

Brett:

But one of the things that I would say is, really if you break it down and think about, I'm not reinventing my message. My core, if I have, what is my one thing, what is the thing I want to be known for? Then, what are the supporting elements that go with that? So Geico is, save 15% on car insurance, 15 minutes saves you 15% or more on car insurance, but they have lots of other little benefits too, like they're really high in customer satisfaction, and they have all these other things. So they've got the one thing, and then they've got their supporting cast. So that doesn't really change.

Brett:

So if you keep in mind, I don't have to reinvent that, those things stay constant. I just need to think of a fresh way to say it and really, we break it down on a few things like, let's test different hooks. So what are the... we know we want to lead with our strongest benefit, we know we want to lead with our one thing, but how do we lead with it? So let's throw out a bunch of hook ideas, let's test 10, 15, 20 different hooks. Okay, what is our offer? Well, let's test five, 10, 15, 20 different offers, and then in the middle as we're looking at the problem, solution, presentation, or the proof elements, some of those things, the myth busting. We test a few elements there too, so it's like, if you create formula, you break it down, then it can become fun. I know I say that because I'm a geek that likes ads, but I think it can be fun for other people too. Also, when you realize you don't need that many home runs, you really don't even need very many home runs at all. Doubles and singles are great too, and so I think those are important.

Brett:

Then the other piece is, I think relying on your customers. Let your customers feed you with new content. So getting testimonials, and you can do that remotely. Mining your product reviews and your customer support tickets and things like that. Mining that for content, for headlines, for hooks, for objection busting, things like that. Let your customers do some of the work too, I think that helps a ton.

Austin:

Yeah, it's one of those things that makes it easier and more effective. A win-win.

Brett:

Yeah, yeah, exactly, yeah. Maybe the most effective thing you could ever do is just repeat something a customer says to you. It's like, wow, that didn't take any creativity at all. That's another thing, and Chip and Dan Heath, the author of that book should pay me some of the royalties because I recommend it so much, but that's one thing they talk about too, is sometimes creativity is just spotting the idea.

Brett:

So one of the examples in the book was, remember the Jared, Subway? Jared, the guy that went on the Subway diet?

Austin:

Yep.

Brett:

Ended up he fell off the wagon and that kind of faded.

Austin:

Fell off the wagon quite hard.

Brett:

It was ugly, it's like, so forget about that part but for this, there was a number of years where that was a beautiful, beautiful campaign. It's like, hey, the person that did that just spotted the idea. They were like, oh, there's something here, I'm going to run with it and I'm going to make something huge out of it, and they did. Sometimes that's all we need to do. We don't need to maybe necessarily manufacture a creative idea, we just need to spot it, and then know how to exploit it.

Austin:

You need to spot it, use it, and then get rid of it before it ends up in prison.

Brett:

Yeah, before spokesperson goes to jail or whatever happened. I don't even remember what happened, but it was bad.

Austin:

I think he went to jail, I think he went to jail. That's really interesting, I'll have to check that out. Yeah, I was just interviewing Val Geiser, she is the customer evangelist at Klaviyo, but she's been a copywriter, freelancer, ran an email agency. She was talking about one of the things she loves doing is customer research. She throws out a... So when she starts, when she would start working with clients, she would email 800 clients a survey. On that survey, have a checkbox that also said, "Would you be interested in being interviewed if we select you?" So as soon as that 800 or 1,000 people gets back 100 or 200 results, filters through, finds the best ones, and then if the ones that are selected for an interview will actually dive in.

Austin:

It's to your point, it's just selecting the idea because it's coming to you. She said she's not... she's like... it was a great saying, I don't know who said it to her or if she came up with it. She's like, "I'm not a copywriter, I'm a copy paster."

Brett:

Copy... I love it.

Austin:

I'm a copy paster.

Brett:

It's so true though. Just one other quick example, worked with an automotive brand that just crushed it on YouTube and other platforms. We had an ad that just scaled like crazy for over a year. It was entirely a mashup of user generated content. So we added text, we strung it together, we had an awesome... I say we, I gave advice. They had their own editor, but it crushed it. It was entirely UGC with just a little bit of editing and some stuff to it. That's still the case, I don't see that going away anytime soon.

Austin:

Yeah, yeah, I mean it's we're in a unique time where it's easy to pull from our customers.

Brett:

Yeah, yeah, way easier now than ever before for sure.

Austin:

Don't need a focus group.

Brett:

No, no.

Austin:

I think what I'm interested in right now, couple things. One is just continuing to go down the path of subscription and adding subscription. I think the thing that's interesting to me more these days is less marketing tactics and more business model.

Brett:

I love this, I love this.

Austin:

Focusing more and more on like, okay, where is the underlying business model? What are some things we could change to make this more effective and make it... build it in a way that allows the company to grow faster without taking so many resources, and also allows you to out compete your customers just based on your business model?

Austin:

I think one of the things that's been most interesting to me over the last year or two that I'll share is, I had a guy on my podcast. We were talking, he sells commercial grade marijuana growing equipment.

Brett:

B to B or to people that are just -

Austin:

B to B, B to B. Mostly B to B, there's some B to C but it's primarily B to B type thing. These are very expensive and you can't advertise them.

Brett:

You can't advertise anything CBD, and certainly not anything marijuana, of course, yeah.

Austin:

Yeah, and so he was like, okay, well I got to get creative here on how I can get traffic. One of the things that he did, because he told me, he was like, "Yeah..." he's like, "I have negative customer acquisition cost." I was like, okay, how does that work, but what he did was he went out and he connected with all of these huge grow operations. So these are big, big grow farms in California and I don't know, wherever else they are. They said they would... he was like, "I pitched them to film a Cribs episode at their grow operation." They paid him to do it, he put it on YouTube and made his Cribs channels. It got millions and millions of views and then he linked to sell his products directly in the comments. So he has negative customer acquisition cost, which I think is pretty darn cool.

Brett:

Yeah, yeah. That's amazing. So a couple quick questions there. First of all, I love this. You and I, I think when we did our first podcast, we both talked about the fact that we were Jay Abraham's students from way back in the day. He's an old school marketer, but he talks about the three ways to grow a business. He talks about business model and stuff too. I think this is so interesting, so I've got a couple thoughts here and a couple questions for you.

Brett:

One, are you finding... So I love subscriptions as a consumer. I end up subscribing to probably too many things, but I like the convenience of it. Then my buddy, our mutual friend, Ezra Firestone, he runs Boom by Cindy Joseph, and we do all the Google and YouTube ads for Boom. People in his market actually hate subscriptions. They just took it off because he said people would call after they made a one-time purchase and just say, "Hey, I'm just making sure I'm not a subscription here." Are you seeing, is it millennials and Gen X-ers are really more into subscriptions? Are you seeing any trends like that, or is it more across the board?

Austin:

I think it has more to do with the product and the creativity related to the subscription-

Brett:

That makes a lot of sense.

Austin:

... than anything else. Also, I think the messaging around it as well is incredibly important. What one of the things I've worked with some clients around is, it had a lot of success is, revamping messaging around their subscription. Trying to figure out, I think a lot of people don't put enough effort into making their subscription work or worthwhile for a product that may actually have some success on subscription. I think one of the reasons I have maybe a unique perspective is I've worked with a lot of different clients. When you see a subscription working really, really well for a product that you wouldn't expect it to work well for. Then you realize why, it's because they put so much time and energy into it.

Austin:

Then you can take that and you can transfer that over to another business who may not have the same frame of reference, where they don't realize, oh, well the reason it works well over there is not just because people like subscriptions, because they're very deliberate about risk reversal. They're very deliberate about telling people, addressing any of the challenges in someone's head about why they... the biggest reason people don't want to subscribe to something is because they're afraid they're going to get caught on a subscription and won't be able to easily cancel. So you need to address that.

Austin:

I think it's interesting to me because it allows for you to compete on these paid social channels or on YouTube or in advertising, because you're going to have something that your competitor might not have, which is recurring revenue. The other side of it, it's a much more pleasant way to grow a business when you have, when you know generally a good percentage of the sales you're going to make the next month. I've been on both sides, I've been on both sides where my business now is primarily driven by recurring revenue. I sleep a lot better than I did when my business was primarily driven by events or one-time sales.

Brett:

Yeah, I love that predictability, it is amazing for sure. I'm just curious, can you give an example? So you talk about some businesses or products you might not think about being applicable for subscriptions? Can you think of some interesting ones that you can share?

Austin:

Yeah, so things that... one of them that's very interesting is Verb Energy bars. Have you seen those?

Brett:

No, no, sounds cool though.

Austin:

Okay, so they have a-

Brett:

Verb? Like with a V-E-R-B?

Austin:

Yeah, Verb. Verb, I believe it's called Verb, let me look it up. Yeah, Verb Energy Bars. So they have a trial to continuity model, which is very interesting. So it's a starter kit where you get an initial offer of four bars, it's basically free plus shipping type thing. Then it recurs into a subscription, and they manage the entire thing via text message.

Brett:

Nice.

Austin:

So you-

Brett:

So you can cancel via text anytime you want?

Austin:

You can cancel via text anytime you want, and they also... so the communication is very clear via text what you're signing up for, you actually, it's like the signup for text is a huge part of their checkout process. Where it's like, you need to select, enter your phone number, and it's very clear, we are going to be texting you about, this is the initial offer. Then we'll be texting you in this many days to let you know, and you can decide at that time whether or not you want to have subscription. So that's really interesting.

Brett:

Very easy to say yes to, and then if the product delivers, the product is good, then it's easy to keep saying yes.

Austin:

Exactly, they made all these things stacks so it's easy for you to say yes and that's the first step, is get the product into your hand, especially with something like an energy bar. First of all, it's weird, it's caffeine in a bar. It's not something that you can determine if you know that you want it before you try it. So, they're breaking down some of those things.

Austin:

Other interesting products, well, I think that there was a... I was just interviewing John Warrillow. You know John Warrillow who wrote the book, Built-

Brett:

I know John.

Austin:

Built to Sell. I've read Built to Sell or the Automatic Customer or the Art of Selling your Business. The Automatic Customer is interesting because he talks a lot about the different ways that you can build a subscription business in. One of them is replenish-able, which everyone thinks of, oh, subscribe to razors or something like that, or coffee. The other one is a curation, where you curate some sort of a box. Then there's - Like a Stitch Fix, type of thing? Blue Apron?

Austin:

Stitch Fix, exactly, yep. Then there's also interesting things you can do with a benefits. So this was an interesting one. I didn't even know I signed up for it, I don't know. I think this is a little bit slimy, but it worked extremely well. I bought my dad something, a sweater from Hammacher Schlemmer. You know Hammacher?

Brett:

No.

Austin:

It's been around for a long time.

Brett:

That sounds yeah, very distinguished.

Austin:

Hundred-year old brand or something like that.

Brett:

Did dad adequately appreciate this gift, or what was his reaction?

Austin:

Yes.

Brett:

Okay, okay, great, yeah.

Austin:

Yeah, I knew it's what he wanted. I knew it was this nice sweater. So I get it, and they gave me a refund on my shipping to sign up for their rewards program, which happened to be $11 a month. So re-billing, and so it was their version of their own personal version of Amazon Prime, kind of, but it was interesting, I was signed up for that for like two-

Brett:

$11 a month do? What do you get from that?

Austin:

It gave me discounts for the future. So I would get enrolled for automatic discounts. Again, it's one of those things that people buy a lot from them. I think they're one of those companies, it's a catalog business people could buy a ton from. So it can be worth your time, worth your energy, but they also know they're getting that $11. It's at a price point where you're not generally going to cancel. That was interesting to me.

Brett:

I love it, and think about the psychology of Amazon Prime or any subscription model where with Amazon Prime, that makes people absolutely think Amazon first for any purchase, right?

Austin:

Yes.

Brett:

So the sweater company's doing the same thing for apparel. It makes me think if I want a new sweater, cardigan, blazer, whatever they sell, I'm going to look there first. There's also this interesting thing too about, have you heard of a reticular activator? Have you heard that term before in marketing?

Austin:

I've heard it but I don't know what it means.

Brett:

Okay, so it's like, if you start shopping for... and I just bought a truck recently, so this is fresh on my mind but if you start shopping for a particular vehicle, you'll suddenly start noticing those vehicles everywhere. So you're looking for a 4Runner or something, you'll start seeing 4Runners all the time. It's like, where did these come from? Well, they've always been there but your brain is always scanning for things that are familiar or also your name. Your name is a reticular activator. So you may be in a room where there's lots and lots of noise and you hear Austin, and you're like, oh, I heard my name. It's a reticular activator.

Brett:

So there's something also then once you purchase something and you're no longer thinking about it, now you stop noticing it. So I just recently did a coffee subscription with this company called Onyx Coffee out of Northwest Arkansas. They're one of the best that I've ever had. So now I'm hooked on this coffee, it's fantastic. So I find I'm not thinking about or paying attention to coffee as much, whereas if I was paying attention or I was thinking about, man, I really would like good coffee. I would probably be even subconsciously be on the lookout for coffee. Now that need is taken care of so I don't think about it.

Brett:

So, it's interesting, just the power of subscription to even keep someone away from competitors because they'll probably stop seeing it, stop thinking about it, if they're on a subscription and if they're well taken care of.

Austin:

Yeah, it's super powerful, it also leads to larger valuations if you're looking to sell your business down the road.

Austin:

Speaking of coffee, Brett, 20 days no caffeine.

Brett:

No way?

Austin:

20 days. It's the longest-

Brett:

Now, if I'm not mistaken, have you tried this? You've gone down this path before?

Austin:

Many times, oh yes.

Brett:

Yeah, how do you feel, though?

Austin:

I feel great that first week or so. It's funny is, I don't even drink that much coffee. I just always have one cup of coffee. I'm addicted to one cup every single day. I was like, I don't want to be addicted to something. I don't want to, you know?

Brett:

Yeah, I love it, love it.

Austin:

So no coffee subscriptions for me right now.

Brett:

Okay, good, man.

Austin:

It's definitely been on my mind though. When you were talking about the reticular activation, I think I had some sort of activation for the first week of seeing coffee everywhere.

Brett:

You're seeing coffee everywhere, like, where is all this coffee coming from? Yeah, exactly.

Austin:

Smelling it in my sleep.

Brett:

Yep, yep, oh man, well good for you, dude. That's some serious will power and yeah, I think even if... and you know I'm a big coffee fan so I'll probably never go to it fully, but even if you do little cleanses, little purges to try to slow down that addiction would probably be good.

Austin:

For sure, yeah. No, the valuation thing is very interesting to me. I look at it and I'm like, okay, what can you do right now to start engineering a sale of your business in the future that's at a higher valuation? Those are the things that I'm interested in. It's like, can you, one, it's like, adding subscription's a great way to do that and being creative around that. The other side is, hiring and building an incredible management team that can run the business without you there so that you have a larger valuation. Also, in that time, a better existence when you run your business. Those are interesting.

Austin:

Then on the marketing side of things, yeah, just creating better offers. The reason I was asking you so many questions about creative is, creative is super interesting. It's freaking hard, it's so hard-

Brett:

It is hard.

Austin:

... to do well.

Brett:

It is so hard. Yeah, the offer that you make is super important. How are you enticing that first customer? I love the example you gave of both the energy bar company and the sweater company, super interesting. I think that's another thing too, where again we've gotten spoiled by hyper targeting and algorithms that help us optimize our ads, where maybe just a lame offer does good enough. So we're able to be lazy in our marketing but the machine, so to speak, helps us out. I think that's potentially shifting, so now we got to be really creative with our offers and with our messaging, but it's fun too.

Austin:

It is, it is. What are you thinking about as an agency owner right now? What's on your mind? What's the thing that keep you up at night that people may not think about?

Brett:

That's good. So, I mean it is the privacy topic, definitely is top of mind. I think one of the things that I'm thinking about a lot and this applies to all of E-commerce and certainly agencies, is just how fast things shift. So we have a good part of our agency is based on Amazon. So we run Amazon ads, we do some Amazon consulting and it's exploding, but it's so interesting how quick things shift in the Amazon world. How what people want there and or new software releases, how quickly that can change things.

Brett:

So my thing is just trying to think, trying to think about, what are the elements that are never going to change so we can really be good at those? Then, how can I listen better, pay attention to customers better so that then the things that do change, we can pivot pretty quickly? But one of the things just to give an example, and this may be a little bit boring, but on the Amazon side, it used to be in the past there'd be several people that would come to us and say, "Hey, we need someone to manage the entire Amazon channel for us. We don't want to touch it." There'd be a few of those but there were a lot of people that just said, "Hey, we just need help with ads." Now it seems like a lot of people say, "We don't want to touch Amazon. Could you please just manage all of it?" So that's really shifted recently.

Brett:

So anyway, I think that's it, is just the speed of change and trying to not let that drive you insane. So doubling down on the things you know won't change. Then really getting good at listening and not holding too tightly to anything so that you can pivot quickly. So I know some of that's a little bit general, but that's where my head's at.

Austin:

It's interesting. What about from... I mean, you have a much larger team now than you did four years ago or I think the last three, four years ago when I saw you.

Brett:

Yeah.

Austin:

How have you changed? Yeah, how has your role changed and what do you as a leader think about these days?

Brett:

Yeah, it's so interesting and I love that question. My head is here a lot more than it is other places, even new technology and stuff. It's like, how do I need to show up? How does my role need to shift as CEO, because we've got a great operator, we've got an awesome COO, Sarah Still is her name. She crushes it, in terms of the day to day management of the team and process implementation. I used to be the guy when it came to some employer related things or even some campaign related things. Now it's more about, how am I building my team? How am I regularly meeting with my top specialists and giving them ideas and inspiring them and helping them work through problems? But really helping them become the star. I used to definitely think if a client relationship is going to be successful, I've got to be heavily involved, and I no longer think that.

Brett:

I remember, I was at a client meeting in Denver with a shoe company, you would actually know the owner, but I went because I always go to the client meetings. I was sitting around the table and I had five of my team members there. I realized about 30 minutes in, I was like, I don't even need to be here. Not that I don't want to be, but just couple of the people on my team were just explaining things so well. I'm like, I can just go grab coffee or pizza or something, this is good. So I think it's about, how do I bring out the best in the people around me? That's what I'm thinking about. So how do I cast vision? How do I look ahead and think, where is the industry going, where are agencies going? Then, how do I just bring out the best in my people. It's really fun.

Brett:

I actually got roped into coaching basketball. I can't remember if I mentioned this. I think we've talked about basketball, because I know you're a basketball guy. You blew out your achilles, I remember that. So I got roped into coaching high school basketball, and it was crazy stressful and it was not a good idea when you have a big family and a business and coaching basketball, but it really taught me like, okay, I can't step on the floor to go do something. How do I bring out the best in these people? It was really a trial by fire and I've learned a lot but I think there's a lot of correlations between coaching and being a COO or CEO. It's like, how do I bring out the best in the people? How do I create scenarios where they shine? So yeah, that's where my head is at most of the time right now, so yeah.

Austin:

That's cool, I like that. I had Josh Snow, head of Snow Teeth Whitening on the podcast. He was talking about, he was like, "I want to attract the Lebron James' of business." He's like, "My role is like, I got to make sure that the gym is good enough for them, and that they can come in and work in there. That they won't... maybe it's not perfect but when they show up they're not like, oh man, this is not up to speed."

Brett:

Yep, yep. Yeah, how do we create an environment where the brilliance of our people can shine? I was reading this thing recently where Jeff Bezos, according to the author of this book, it's called Always Day One, and he's talking about how really Bezos worked as a facilitator. Of course, brilliant guy coming up with ideas on his own for sure too, but how do I just facilitate great ideas and make sure the best ideas rise to the top? Do we execute on that, and how might people get unstuck and things like that? But more facilitator is how he operated, which is super interesting.

Brett:

But what about you, man? This is funny because this is a joint podcast. So we get to fire questions ..

Austin:

Yes.

Brett:

How has your role and how's your perspective shifted in recent years?

Austin:

Well, I think the thing that has shifted the most for me has been a shift towards the things that I am really good at, and just trying to get myself into the two things that I'm good at. One which is content, creating content. Then the other side of that is coaching.

Austin:

So there are few things that are really easy for some people, and everyone's got something that's really easy for them and hard for other people. For me, the coaching and being in a workshop or a mastermind and helping people out, that actually gives me energy. I'm really good at it, I could do that all the time. So it's trying to figure out how to put me in a position to be able to be more effective in that space and help the team be effective in their roles that allow me to be in that role. So that's where we're at right now, if I do more content and do more coaching, we continue to grow.

Austin:

The rest of the stuff, it's incredible because I'm trying to attract really the best people that I can to be able to do those things. I'm always thinking about seats. I think that's one of the... there are things about the traction, EOS method that I like and things that I don't like. But one of the things that I really like is the seats, getting people in the right seats and thinking about that all the time and trying to recognize that your business has seats. Don't try to create seats for people, but try to put people in the seats and try to find the right people for the seats that you have. That's really interesting to me.

Austin:

Then the other thing that I realized over the last couple years is, one of the most valuable things that I can do is go and talk to other founders and come up with ideas that way, and spend more time, whether it's in my mastermind group or whether it's going... I went on a six-day backpacking trip with-

Brett:

With other founders?

Austin:

Most of them yeah, were. It wasn't a specifically founder only, but almost everybody there ran a business. I came back and I was like, man, I feel so clear about where we need to go.

Brett:

Were you completely off the grid or were you still checking in and stuff like that?

Austin:

Completely off the grid.

Brett:

Dang.

Austin:

The first night, it was four degrees with wind chill. It was very cold.

Brett:

Wow.

Austin:

It was very cold.

Brett:

You have to have the right gear for that.

Austin:

Yeah, I definitely had a summer sleeping pad so I was rocking an emergency blanket for the first night. It got warmer after that, the first, but it was definitely... I'll look back on that night, it was like, oh man, that's what I remember about the trip for sure.

Brett:

That was dangerously cold, yeah.

Austin:

So yeah, those are the types of things that I've been thinking about is, how do I put myself in a position where I can show up more as myself to attract people who want to be in our company? Who have the same vibe, message, goals and aligning those is really, really the thing that's exciting to me.

Brett:

Yeah, yeah, I love it, man. When you're doing that, when you're executing and doing the things that you're best at, everything just better. Then you create this environment where that's the expectation and other people do the same thing. So it's really cool, man, really cool to hear for sure.

Austin:

It's fun, and it also makes... I think the thing that I've been thinking about more and more is, I mean, it's a long game. So you don't want to burn out and you don't want to... how long have you been running OMG Commerce?

Brett:

Since 2010. So yeah, 11 years. Yeah, which is crazy.

Austin:

11 years.

Brett:

Things have pivoted and changed so dramatically. We were doing local marketing the very beginning, and then pivoted all to E-commerce. So yeah, a lot has changed.

Austin:

In those 11 years though, where has... the last three years, how different were the last three years and the first three years as far as growth, revenue, profits?

Brett:

Oh yeah, the last three years have just been ..

Austin:

It's all compounded.

Brett:

It's all compounded, exactly. It's compounded. Yeah, we made the Inc. 5000 list now three years in a row, and have been growing on that list and stuff. Yeah, it's definitely compounded, but a lot of the decisions and the learnings and the disciplines of those early years helped create that compounding, so.

Austin:

Oh, no, for sure. I mean, that's what it is, you had to put in the time at the beginning and be able to continue to stay in the game long enough so that you can get those compound returns that come later. They come from... the reason that you can hop on, you promote a YouTube event and you have everybody promoting it in our industry is because of 10 years of you being out there going to events, talking to people, people know you, all those different things. So yeah, that's interesting to me, but.

Brett:

It's awesome.

Austin:

Brett, this has been freaking good, man. I like it.

Brett:

Good, dude.

Austin:

It's fun catching up.

Brett:

We talked privacy, we talked creative, we talked subscription. We talked what we were excited... this was good stuff, dude. We could keep going, yeah, that's awesome.

Austin:

Well, let's do a little promo. So if you're listening on my podcast, Brett, why don't you tell them about your podcast?

Brett:

Absolutely.

Austin:

Yeah.

Brett:

Yeah, so E-commerce Evolution is my podcast and I really started it one, because I enjoy being on podcasts. So I thought, well, easiest way to consistently be on a podcast is to host one. I like meeting people and it really gives us an excuse. I mean, guys like you, Austin, where it's hard for us to schedule an hour to sit down and just chat for no reason, but if we're on a podcast. So I learn so much from the podcast, I connect with awesome people, but E-commerce Evolution. What's new, what's next in E-commerce. We talk traffic, we talk conversion rate optimization, it's all interview based. So yeah, if you're not a listener and not a subscriber, what are you doing? You got to check it out.

Austin:

Go check it out.

Brett:

Go check it out.

Austin:

Go check it out for sure.

Brett:

Then for my podcast, yeah, let's hear about-

Austin:

Yeah, if you're listening to this on Brett's podcast, my podcast is called E-commerce Influence. We just hit our 300th episode.

Brett:

One of the first E-commerce podcasts, correct? I mean, it was maybe like you and one other, right?

Austin:

Yes.

Brett:

Yeah.

Austin:

I think it was me and Youderian?

Brett:

I think so.

Austin:

And maybe Steve, but yeah, over 300 episodes. We really focus on, how do you build wealth and how do you live fulfilling life while running an E-commerce business? We have interviews that talk about random stuff, how to grow your business, and that's been my focus is exploring different paths to those things recently. So, check it out, ecommerceinfluence.com. Yeah, Brett, thanks man, this was really fun. We will talk soon here.

Brett:

Thanks, dude. You're a true OG. Thank you, appreciate you.


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