It’s easier than ever to start a brand today. The infrastructure is easier, and digital marketing means brands no longer have to shell out for a television ad or a print catalog to get the word out about a new product. They can spend a tenth of that on Facebook ads instead, and see exactly who buys the product after viewing, thanks to click-based attribution.
This has caused what appears to be a glut of direct-to-consumer brands, who are eager to hand over money to agencies to help them with their Facebook marketing and acquire new customers. In the latest edition of our Confessions series, in which we offer anonymity in exchange for candor, we speak to a former marketer who cycled through several agencies — ultimately landing at one that worked mostly with direct-to-consumer brands — before going freelance. He spoke about how agencies failed to vet brands in the early days of the DTC boom and what problems he’s having with Facebook with Black Friday rapidly approaching. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What do DTC brands look for? What did you find at your last agency?
We were getting a lot of first-time entrepreneurs, or early second-time entrepreneurs. Many of them didn’t have a marketing background. Their average revenue was between $0 and $25 million. They didn’t know the paid-marketing side of Facebook, and that turned into “what kind of creative do we need to make, so that we can be successful on social?” They didn’t know the creative because they didn’t know the value proposition.
So how did you try to work with them?
We as a marketer — we’re not here to necessarily solve those problems, we’re here to find better ways of telling the story, so people can buy into that unique selling proposition. They come to us and go, “Well it’s not working, why isn’t it working?” And it’s like, “Well why is your product different?” It’s on us to work together because we don’t live and breathe your brand. You’re the person that created it, so how do we get your story or your message into the world?
Everyone’s talking a lot about weaning themselves off Facebook and finding alternatives. With your clients, what percentage of their customers would they acquire through Facebook?
I would say an overwhelming 75-plus, 80-plus%.
Does it still work?
I’m in Facebook every day, and I’m freaking out right now. We’re in the fourth quarter, and usually every fourth quarter, there’s a massive conversion bump. We’ve been spending millions the past couple months in anticipation of this, and we still haven’t seen it. We’re like two weeks away. It blows my mind.
Are people finding alternatives?
People are talking about, “Hey let’s go to Snapchat.” Snapchat’s still over-reporting. They’re going to claim they have an involvement in the purchase, and they’re driving X amount of revenue, and then you look at your cart or your Shopify, and you’re like, “Wait that doesn’t even line up.” So it’s very difficult to trust any other platform than Facebook right now because of the reporting. The ability to get true insights is not built out. Now I will say Pinterest and YouTube are on the way.
On the paid-social side, we know people are wanting to invest in these other channels, but then they have to invest in the content that works specifically for that channel, which is just another hurdle for them to jump through.
It’s easy to start a business. But it’s hard to start a brand. What do people not realize about DTC brands?
In 2017, 2018 — you saw the rise of the dropshipping or the fake front brands where all they were doing was repackaging or sending out pretty low-quality products. I would say it ruined the DTC experience. What I mean by legitimate is a company that’s going to be around for more than six months to a year. When you are selling on Facebook, the consumer actually believes Facebook or Google is sending the product. They can’t discern where it’s coming from sometimes, even though they’re clicking off on a website.
Do you feel like this is still a problem with some agencies, that they are taking on dropshippers?
I don’t think necessarily dropshippers, but I think there’s three different kinds of people [to watch out for]. One is a dropshipper, or someone that’s not in it for the long haul, but is in it for a quick buck. They see a market opportunity, and they go, “Oh wait I can make X amount of dollars, let me go find the best person I can work with.”
Second is someone that comes in and goes, “Dude, I have the best product, I just developed it, it’s game-changing, we need a 4X return on every dollar we spend.” I’m like, “OK you’re crazy, there’s no way anybody even knows about your brand, how do you think that’s possible?”
And then the third person comes in and goes, I understand we’re new to the market, I really need to what we call “buy the data.” We want to learn about what we need to do, what angles to take, what creative we need to make. There’s a lot of learning involved in it. And those are the three people that you’re like, “OK, I don’t want A, I don’t want B, I really want a lot of Cs. But the C people — who are willing to invest in the brand and growing the business — are really difficult to come by. You’ve got to knock on a lot of doors before you get to them.