#197 – Building a brand in the direct-to-consumer space | Nik Sharma & Ben Grynol

Episode introduction

Show Notes

Branding isn’t just about the visual identity of a company. In this episode, Ben Grynol talks with Nik Sharma, “The DTC Guy” who runs Sharma Brands and HOOX, about what it means to build a good brand in the direct-to-consumer marketing space. Nik points out the crucial thing to remember is that no one remembers your brand unless you’re one of the top global brands, so it’s best not to get overly invested in how your brand is perceived. It’s best to drive consumer awareness, be consistent in providing valuable content and products, and pay attention to how you talk to and pitch your audience.

Episode Transcript

Nik Sharma (00:06):

Generally, unless you’re like a half a billion dollar brand, let’s say a billion dollar brand, no one thinks about you. No one thinks, “Wow, that was off brand. I’m not shopping there again.” “I saw this Instagram post and that felt off brand to me, screw this brand, I’m never going back.” No one thinks that, but that’s such a common thought among CMOs, brand marketing teams, et cetera, I think a lot of times it prevents them from even testing things that could find a lot of efficiencies.

Ben Grynol (00:45):

I’m Ben Grynol, part of the early startup team here at Levels. We’re building tech that helps people to understand their metabolic health and this is your front row seat to everything we do. This is a whole new level.


When it comes to direct-to-consumer companies, that being one like Levels, there are all these different tactics and strategies that you can undertake, things like landing pages, things like lifecycle marketing, that being email, that being how you reach customers through different channels, and when you talk about building a brand, what are some of the considerations around it?


Well, Nik Sharma, very much an expert in direct-to-consumer, host of Limited Supply Podcast and he’s pretty active on Twitter when it comes to direct-to-consumer insights. He and I sat down and we discussed all these different considerations around what it means to build a brand, when should you think about tracking brand metrics, how much brand debt is acceptable because brands do evolve and you got to start out at a certain point anyway.


It’s always fun jamming with Nik on these different things, and if there’s one thing you do, make sure you go check out Nik and everything he’s doing around Limited Supply and things with his agency landing pages like hooks. Anyway, no need to wait. Here’s where we kick things off.


Let’s dive into this idea of what does it mean to build a brand. I think there are conversations around like is a brand a moat, what does a brand do from a community perspective, from an alignment perspective, there’s all these things we can rationalize, but in general, what does it mean to build a good brand? How do you do it and when do people overinvest in brand and when do people underinvest in brand, and what are some of the advantages and disadvantages to both?

Nik Sharma (02:45):

I think what is not building a brand is paying a branding agency to put together what your visual identity looks like. I think a lot of people confuse that to be the catalyst for building a brand and I think it’s a great way to launch and look nice, but I don’t think a lot of branding agencies actually build a brand. I think they just help you with design.


I think building a brand is a combination, it’s very much like the external shell of your company culture to some extent. I also think that your brand is basically something that gets built over time. You can’t launch on day one and have a brand usually launch on day one with a product, and over time, that becomes a brand. I think it’s a combination of consistent content, driving value, and putting out good products.


I think actually, it’s a really interesting shift in content in general. The best type of content that does well now is where the consumer feels a part of it versus feels like a viewer of it. And so, the best TikToks are ones where, this is why these prank channels on YouTube I think have always done well. You feel like you’re there as a part of this prank and that’s why it’s a bigger thing. Same with TikToks, story times or doing something to… I’m sure you see these trends where it’s like the daughter calls the dad and is like, “Oh, I put the gas in at the green handle because the black one was…” Somebody who’s using the black one, but it’s diesel and it’s like, even though it’s something funny, you actually feel like you’re there, a part of this whole prank.


And so, we try to tailor the podcast in a similar way, which is how do we make somebody feel like they’re the third person here on the couch with us versus just viewing it from the outside in. The best YouTubers have the same thing. Everything they do, you feel like you’re on this journey with them versus watching them. That’s something that a lot of Hollywood stuff hasn’t really grasped yet, but you see it with the newer and the younger shows. They do a better job of it, at least off the screen.


Going back to what makes a brand, I think it’s all a part of that, which is it’s the feeling that you get when you interact with that thing, whether it’s a product or whether it’s listening to content. It’s the emotions that get instilled in you, whether it’s excitement or joy or fear, whatever it is. I think it’s just consistency. If we stopped recording that podcast, it wouldn’t be a brand, it would be a podcast with a few episodes. But the more we keep recording it, the more Limited Supply becomes a brand versus just something that comes out on a Wednesday.

Ben Grynol (05:41):

Exactly. The thing with building brands that is so hard is I think they can get over-engineered, like to your point of you hire an agency because you think you need to in the beginning and brands, as you mentioned, are built over time. But the inaccurate heuristic is, and I can’t remember, it’s been a while since I’ve looked into them, but iconic logos, we think of all these logos of, well that company must have put a ton of thought into that logo and they’re branding and all those things. Moiz highlighted on Limited, I think it was probably a couple weeks ago, you guys were talking about Native. He’s like, “I just wrote out the font that was the same as…” I can’t remember which brand it was, but he basically just copied the font.

Nik Sharma (06:30):

The font of Harris and the colors of Casper.

Ben Grynol (06:32):

That’s exactly what it was. It’s funny because if you look at very timely, Twitter, lots of good stuff going on, but Twitter’s icon, I can’t remember what the purchase price was, but that’s an iStock icon or some-

Nik Sharma (06:47):


Ben Grynol (06:48):

…. a stock platform icon that was like six bucks and they’re like, “Whoa, we’re clearly pivoting. [inaudible 00:06:56] we’re pivoting. We can scrape together six, but we can’t scrape together seven bucks. Whatever the price was, here, we’ll just call it, here’s the bird.” That is iconic, globally iconic as this thing and it’s like, was there a ton of thought into the brand? No, maybe sometimes things don’t line up when you take that scrappy approach, but the whole idea is have a great product, find ways to get it out there and over time, you build this brand and all these touchpoints. That’s the interesting thing.

Nik Sharma (07:23):

I couldn’t agree more. I mean, I remember even when we launched Judy, the emergency kit brand, for the longest time the URL was readyjudy.com, which makes not a lot of sense unless you realize it’s for emergency preparedness and it’s like, “Okay, you’re preparing with Judy.” But then I found the owner of judy.co, convinced him to sell it. This was already after we had launched, but the point there is we got to an MVP with a 1299 domain and that was good enough to get us launched.


I think that’s someplace where a lot of people spend too many resources on early on is how do we make this thing look perfect out the gate versus instead of relying on the 26-year-old hippie who’s putting together our brand book and we’re going to follow those guidelines, how about we just launch and then let’s figure out what people like and what they don’t like and adapt to it very quickly.


Every single marketer will tell you to AB test everything. Use the data to your advantage. Don’t just take everything at face value. But so many, oftentimes, we see these 7,050-page brand books get developed and brands are so scared to deviate away from that because they feel like they spent so much money on it, they might as well use it. But also, it’s got to be done right if they spent so much money on it.


A lot of times we find that the best learnings come from different approach, which is let’s think of our product, let’s say the Levels’ CGM. What are the 27 reasons that’s going to get somebody to purchase and then let’s craft copy and creative and a lander out of that, and then go test all 27 and see which five drive the best acquisition cost for us in the short term, but also then in the long term. You look back 6 months or 12-month windows later and you understand that, but a lot of times, it’s not the stuff that’s going to be written by a branding agency or even written by the founder at the beginning. The way that a business is seen day zero versus day seven versus day 370 are completely different.

Ben Grynol (09:42):

The interesting thing is you can get so frozen on these brand principles when you’ve got these guidelines like, oh well, we can do that. That’s way off. When you are a startup, it’s testing, it’s testing, testing, testing. You throw up, as you said, 27 different landing pages. It’s like there’s probably going to be some acceptable amount of brand jank that you have to put up with when you get really wide on platforms.


We’ve all got the ability to go to Canva or Figma, we can use some tool to go create some logo very quickly, font. Font and black on white, pretty easy, there’s our logo. You don’t need to go deep, but over time, brands evolve and they develop. What do you do if it’s your brand, especially when you get into things like voice, you get into aesthetics and you find that you put up some landing page that objectively is outside of this brand bible, this big brand guidelines thing, that you’re like, “Man, that thing is converting at 4X the thing that is on-brand.”


You’re going to say, “No, we don’t do that.” You’re going to look at it, you’re going to be like, “Objectively, that thing is crushing, so let’s start to change our approach,” but it’s so easy to get, especially with tying it into performance marketing stuff. The stuff that’s performing right now is all this UGC stuff that’s like weird thought bubbles and just voiceover stuff. So many of those videos are working for people. Well, that one year ago, five years ago, tight brands would never do that because they’d be like, “We possibly, we have to hire a studio. They’re going to create something that is on-brand with nice B-roll and all these things.” And you’re like, “Well, it’s performing, use it.” What do you do? You have to lean into these different directions and accept this hey, judy.com.

Nik Sharma (11:35):

I also think too, generally, unless you’re a half a billion dollar brand, let’s say a billion dollar brand, no one thinks about you. No one thinks, “Wow, that was off-brand. I’m not shopping there again. I saw this Instagram post and that felt off-brand to me. Screw this brand, I’m never going back.” No one thinks that, but that’s such a common thought among CMOs, brand marketing teams, et cetera. I think a lot of times, it prevents them from even testing things that could find a lot of efficiencies.


I had dinner with a CMO last night of a huge restaurant chain globally and I told them, I was like, “I love when I go to the airport that you guys have two restaurants in the terminal because I always know that among a sea of shitty airport restaurants, I can always rely on going here and getting good food and it’s quick and it’s fast and I know it’s going to be good.”


His response was, “Yeah, we were really hesitant about that because of the brand perception of we’re going to be compared to airport food.” I was like, “No, I think it’s quite the opposite. I think you guys have cracked the code. You always have lines and everybody wants to go to you. It’s more of a convenience thing. In fact, I always think, thank God this brand did this because now I don’t have to go eat shitty food before a flight or after a flight.” I think that’s another one that kills a lot of stuff.


I remember too at when I was at Hint Water, there’s an influencer we worked with named Sara Dietschy who’s a tech YouTuber and she’s phenomenal. Her husband is also a YouTuber named John. First, we sent Sara a bunch of product, then we sent John a bunch of product, and John opened it using a pocket knife, stabbing into the box, ripping it open, taking it out, cutting the thing open. I remember I took that clip from YouTube, turned it into a Facebook ad, started running it. Our CPA was about 20 to 30% lower than some of the other stuff we were running. We just kept it going.


We had this new CMO who joined for, I don’t know, I think he lasted a few weeks. He was like, “What is this? This is terrible. We need to take this down immediately. There’s no way that this is doing good for the brand.” I was like, “No, this is actually our best ad right now.” The CPA is the lowest, the click-through rate is the highest. And he’s like, “What are we doing? We’re ruining the brand perception.” I was like, “What’s your perception of this brand, losing money or growing the business with revenue?”


Then eventually, we took it down because he has the final call, but that was another one of those moments where I was like, okay, there cannot be this battle which often happens between a brand team and a performance team. There almost has to be this integration of a performance branding team which says, “Okay, how do we drive consumer awareness? How do we drive conversion? How do we drive hardworking paid media dollars while building the brand at the same time?”


Also, everything that’s shot in a studio does well. There’s a bunch of brands that we’ve worked with, there’s some that we currently work with where all they want to put out is this beautiful $50,000 photo shoot studio stuff and it never performs because that does great on a billboard, it doesn’t do well on all these channels that brands spend on, which is Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, Pinterest. If it’s not content that feels native to the platform, why are we even arguing about whether it’s on-brand or off-brand when we just know that it’s not even going to work in the first place.


All that rant to say, I think the biggest flaw is saying that something is not on-brand. In fact, the stuff that is generally considered not to be on-brand or might look shaky or low budget is the stuff that will mostly always outperform the really nice stuff. The truth is, if you think as a marketer that you’re ruining your brand perception, you’re also assuming that somebody is thinking of you after the half a second that they see your ad and you’re delusional if you think somebody thinks of you more than just the ad that they see.

Ben Grynol (16:29):

You can get so focused on not being adaptable. Let’s do the big planned campaign and shoot, there is a time and a place. The more prominent your brand from a global perspective, the bigger your company. You’re Nike? Yes, take the time to make sure you’re doing things right. The stakes are very different, but the reality is what’s the user behavior? People are just flying with their fingers on these platforms, scrolling past content and they don’t notice things the same way. They don’t scrutinize this things the same way.

Nik Sharma (16:58):

Not at all.

Ben Grynol (16:59):

That somebody at Casper is looking and they’re going, “Cure all the details.” Somebody else is just like, “They don’t notice the line weight of the icon is different.” And someone else is going, “Oh, we don’t use 0.4, we use 0.2,” in all their icons. Then you bikeshed that stuff and that becomes really, really dangerous.


One of the other things that I wanted to highlight was the idea of brand between consumer and something that might be B2B or enterprise. We have to make the argument. Yeah, brand is important, it shouldn’t just be like have the lowest res things, like bad quality stuff is bad quality. It’s more around this idea of cohesion I think that we’re both sitting here, dummying a bit and going like, “Put your best foot forward. Don’t worry about micro details that they’re going to erode your brand over time because they’re constantly changing, they’re evolving,” But the idea I think where people sometimes, from what I have seen, they make the mistake of assuming that brand matters equally across all different categories.


In consumer, let’s say consumer in a competitive or saturated space, your brand does matter a lot different than some B2B space. Slack didn’t have to develop some brand in the early days. It could get away with some janky, here’s the platform. The expectation is way different. They’re not putting out media and content the same way where people are gauging them. But when you’re Casper competing against Purple and you’re competing against all of these other analogs or Warby, same thing, you’re going, “Well, we should focus on brand.” It’s find that balance, but know that if you’re in that B2B SaaS space, don’t invest the time that Casper isn’t building this brand in the same way. Just make sure your product works and get it out there and sell it. That principle applies across any company.

Nik Sharma (19:05):

I think there’s two things that I see help a lot of early stage brands. One is really understand how you’re pitching your product. If you think of a four quadrant graph between understanding of your product and understanding of the product, in this case, let’s say mattresses. How much does somebody know about mattresses? And then another axis is understanding of your specific brand. How well does somebody know Eight Sleep versus do they not know Eight Sleep but maybe they know mattress, maybe they don’t know about mattresses or Eight Sleep. Make sure you have kind of a one sentence understanding in each quadrant of how do you pitch your product to somebody who doesn’t know the category, doesn’t know your brand, versus knows the category and your brand, versus knows the category, doesn’t know your brand or knows your brand doesn’t know the category, because a lot of people tend to pitch their brand in one specific way, and often they find that they can’t scale a marketing channel or, “Oh, our ads don’t work,” and it’s really because they’re not speaking to them properly.


The other method to get to that is if let’s say you discover Eight Sleep, if I’m looking at the Eight Sleep site, how should I go explain it to my friend who’s never heard of the brand and whatever I say should almost be the pitch that Eight Sleep gives out to their consumers in the first place. But I think those are two things that a lot of brands don’t do.


As a result, for example, there’s this brand we bought called Long Wknd and the pitch could be, well, we’re plastic-free personal care, but that kind of sucks and it doesn’t really do much, or even hooks. We’ll help you build landing pages, which is great, but if somebody knows about landing pages, it doesn’t explain why you should go to hooks instead. If somebody doesn’t know about landing pages, it doesn’t also explain why you should go to hooks. And so, that I think is one big part that a lot of people don’t do. I think if they just did that and got their one sentence figured out, it would help them tremendously across all their content, whether it’s ads, whether it’s organic social, whether it’s their homepage site copy, whether it’s their product page copy, their landing page copy.


Then, another one is describe your brand as a person. Hooks, who is hooks? All right, let’s say hooks is like Johnny Bravo. Nice hair, nice fitted T-shirt on, comes to sit at dinner. He’s at your dinner till 9:00, 10:00, and then he is up at seven to go work out. He’s that kind of guy. When he goes out on the weekends, he’s going to a nice restaurant, but he’s always going to bet on time because he cares about his, whatever, sleep or making a workout the next morning. I think really defining who your brand is as a person, if this was a person, what are their friends? What kind of food are they eating? What kind of TV are they consuming? What kind of YouTube do they consume? How should we talk about launching a new brand or how do we think about POS copy versus social copy. All that kind of stuff gets really clear after you can figure out if your brand was a person, what would that person be like?

Ben Grynol (22:43):

The copy part of it’s interesting because it is so tightly tied into brand and we often think about brand as being aesthetics for the most part. But in general, the underinvestment in simple headlines that do give people a lens into what exactly a company does, what it is, why you should use it. You always riff on these things of what it is, why you should use it, who else has used, what’s a social proof, why you’re better than the other options out there, what’s the cost, what’s the timeline? These are sort of the nuggets to hammer that home on a lander so that people go, “I get it, I’ve got the expectation set, I can make the decision.” But instead, and I know YC is great about hammering people on the pitch, it’s make sure you have your one-liner down.


Things can get so convoluted in the world of you’re trying to explain things to people in a jargony sense and they’re just like, “I’m literally lost. What exactly is native?” And it’s like, “Oh it’s actually just, it’s deodorant. Don’t worry about it. That’s it.” But people like, “Oh I wasn’t sure. I thought it was school supplies,” because the people get so far off of, it’s the only thing that’s going to change your lifestyle of this long-winded stuff. Man, don’t do that. Don’t change that. Focus on all those 27 landing pages with different headlines. Say, “Boom, there it is.”

Nik Sharma (24:11):

Our VP of growth at Sharma Brands, her name is Ari, and her one liner when we do client kickoffs, she just says, “My job is to make you as much money as I possibly can.” That pretty much sums up her job in a sentence. But that to me is a good example of how do you take something vice president of growth, she could say, “Oh, I oversee paid channels and the integration between what we do from a user experience standpoint to a paid media standpoint.” But just simply putting it like, “Hey, my job is to make you as much money as possible and anything that falls within that, you can come to me.” Makes it so much easier for the other side to receive it, to understand it, and to correlate an emotion, usually excitement, directly with it.

Ben Grynol (25:01):

Exactly. Because no one’s ever going to use a product if they don’t understand what it is.

Nik Sharma (25:06):


Ben Grynol (25:06):

What is it? Why should I use it? Those are the simple, simple things. It’s a lot harder when you are creating new categories too. Let’s take it back to Airbnb. You can’t be as colloquial as saying stay in someone else’s home and some random line. It’s like you have to sell people on what it is, but essentially that’s what it is. It’s so literal that people are like, “That’s a little weird, but I do understand the value prop, what you’re building on your own.”

Nik Sharma (25:33):


Ben Grynol (25:33):

And there’s like, that’s a whole different conversation. Two sides in the marketplace and marketing to, when you have multi-sided marketplace, that is a whole different ballgame but an interesting conversation.

Nik Sharma (25:44):


Ben Grynol (25:46):

Why don’t we get into metrics. When thinking about marketing metrics, it’s really easy to focus on things like conversion, attribution, attribution being so difficult to measure as it is when you get into omnichannel things. But there are all of these other things that have to do with brand around things like sentiment analysis and brand lift. You talked about it a little bit as far as how much do people know of Eight Sleep versus Casper? Do they understand the differences in the product? A, when should companies start to care about some of these brand metrics other than the dollars and cents, and what are some of the things that people should actually care about?

Nik Sharma (26:25):

What I think most brands should care about is really around their own metrics. I think one thing about when I worked at Hint, we almost never cared about our brand lift or brand awareness penetration. We never cared to look at our competitors either. We were always just so laser-focused of, “Okay, we know what problem we’re solving and how do we just get more people to understand what we’re solving for,” versus, “Oh, shit. LaCroix just did this campaign. Their brand lift is up to 22%. We’re stuck at 14%. What’s our plan to combat this?”


We have a client as well that does a lot of this analyzing brand lift or brand awareness, brand penetration in their category. For the most part, I almost just see it as a distraction. Unless you’re like Crocs or Bacardi, multi, multi-billion dollar companies, I don’t think it’s worth your time to spend time analyzing competitors. Sure, you could look at competitors to see, for example, we have an apparel brand. A lot of their competitors started Black Friday early. That’s a great insight for us because that means we need to quickly change what the plans that we had were because we didn’t see most competitors were going to launch Black Friday this far early, or that they were going to discount so steeply.


But looking into brand lift or, “Oh, how much social engagement is our competitor getting versus us?” To me, it seems like just a waste of time versus I always the mindset of how do you just get 1% better? If our conversion rate’s 4%, okay, well what do we got to do to get it to 5%? If we’re getting on social media, we’re getting a 2% engagement on Instagram. Okay, well what do we have to do to get it to two and a half or 3%, versus damn, native is at 3% and we’re at 0.5%, let’s put together another deck, figure out how we’re going to get there.


I think the brand stuff is kind of here nor there. I think brand lift stuff too is also kind of here nor there. You also have to understand how those tests are conducted, who those people are. There’s so many variables into how those can be completely skewed. I’m sure everybody who’s listening to this has come across an ad on Instagram or Twitter or Facebook, which is just a quick poll or even YouTube as a pre-roll ad, they’ll run it. It’s a poll to get, “Oh, have you heard of Levi’s? What other brands would you buy instead of Levi’s?” It’s just silly questions because you might be like, “No, I just want to click whatever to hit next and get to my video.” They’re also skewed, but nobody talks about that stuff. I think that stuff is useless.


I think the stuff that is useful is, well what drives dark social? Dark social is basically copy-pasting links into group chats, taking a post and sending it as a DM to a chat or to somebody else. What are we doing to get people talking about us versus just what is our brand penetration or brand lift? I think for smaller brands especially, I think that’s almost like an advantage, because if you go to a larger brand, you have more of a seasoned CMO or seasoned whatever, and that’s the type of stuff they focus on. They’re not focused on, okay, how do we light up TikTok in a way that our competitors can’t, or can we drop a thread on sustainability on Twitter from our brand account that no other competitor is doing because they don’t even think of this kind of stuff?


I think the advantage is how can you do things to move faster and almost just break things like the Facebook model. But I think a lot of the metrics otherwise, I think your main metrics should generally be conversion rate on your site, revenue CPA, ROAS, retention rate, LTV, and then outside of e-commerce stuff, I think it’s like, well how many people who see our brand, how many people engage with it. The people that engage with it, are we even engaging with the right audience?


There’s a great example of when Victoria’s Secret started running programmatic ads. They told their agency, “We’re going to start running these ads.” They start running these ads and it’s like, “Oh, we’re not getting any clicks, we’re not getting any view-through conversions. What’s going on here?” Then the agency said, “You’re right, we’re going to figure out how to optimize for clicks.” They changed the campaign set up. All of a sudden clicks went through the roof, 13, 14% click-through rate, but for some reason no purchases. It’s like, “Oh they just optimized to show Victoria’s Secret ads to guys.” And so, guys were just clicking on these women but they weren’t going to buy the product.


And so, all that to say, I think a lot of the metrics are useless. They don’t really lead to conclusions. Unless you understand the full process of how that metric was created, it’s just another metric that’s going to lead to another deck maybe, but not necessarily a conclusive result. I mean, I feel like Moiz and I are always on this path of everything should just come back to revenue. If it’s not generating revenue or excitement or FOMO or that type of stuff, it’s really not building brand at the end of the day.

Ben Grynol (32:05):

It is very interesting because you get this brand debt or this legacy. Especially with legacy companies, this legacy way of thinking where you have to quantify what you’re doing to rationalize that you should keep doing it. And so, you do all of these things saying, “Hey, we put out whatever,” you put out some piece of media. I’m like, “Look, when we survey people, there’s more awareness of brand X, Y and Z.”


Conclusion, we’re doing great. Meanwhile, it’s like you could have invested that time in, as you said, testing some piece of content on some long-tail platform and saying, “Cool, what happened? Did we reach a new audience?” What are people saying things that you cannot quantify? Maybe there’s only 20 comments and that doesn’t really matter, but in those 20 comments there’s some nuggets and you’re like, “Man, if we look at this from a qualitative perspective, pretty interesting. Hey you guys should be like, here’s four people say product extension. I’d love to see whatever it is.” And you’re like, “Man, we didn’t even think about that. That sounds like a new category we should explore.”


These are all the insights that you have to take. You hear this especially with YouTubers are gold at this where great YouTubers will mine the comments. I mean, you can look at vanity metrics, you have to look at certain things, especially when you’re going, what’s the impression to click-through rate? They want people want to understand the engagement to know, because that’s how the algo is going to ride that piece of content. That does matter. But in general, it’s like what’s happening in the comments section? What are people wanting to see next? That’s-

Nik Sharma (33:50):


Ben Grynol (33:51):

… how they’re coming up with these new ideas. The same thing goes for products. If somebody says 10 times out of 10, “Hey, you should have this product,” and you’re not currently offering it, you can’t turn a blind eye to that insight and go, “Well, the video had 100 views on it or the…” That’s your data. That’s your data.

Nik Sharma (34:09):


Ben Grynol (34:10):

If we get into this idea of let’s jump into email, landing pages, content creation, but what in your eyes are the most underutilized tools, maybe not tooling but the tactics, the tools that people can use at their fingertips that they’re not to actually reach more bottom funnel things, things like convergence, better retention, better LTV, what do you look at as far as underutilized tools?

Nik Sharma (34:40):

There’s three that come to mind right away, actually maybe four if you’re a high spending brand. High spending, meaning you’re spending at least 100K a month on paid media. One is an in-house content creator that can not only help you manage social but also create content on the fly. Whether that is for an ad, quickly taking a photo, creating a video, or just organic TikTok channel, having somebody in-house who can create content pretty quickly and put it out and put out maybe a few pieces of content or test different angles for products or messaging. I think that’s one.


Another one is optimizing the cart. A lot of brands don’t optimize their cart. That’s like one place they don’t tend to innovate on with their site. Having a cart that has gamification to get you toward, whether it’s a free shipping or a free gift to the next AOV level. Also then taking a product that’s a one-time buying product and getting somebody to turn it into subscription or upselling more products within the car to increase AOV, all that can happen within a cart. We tend to use this one called rebuy, which is you just plug it in and pretty quickly you can add stuff to it. That’s another easy one.


Third easy one is optimizing the email popup. A lot of brands will launch with an email capture and then they’ll just like keep it, they’re not going to go test it. But testing that, I think, for one brand we tested it probably over 20 times and we ended up getting to about a 7% email conversion rate, which is killer. It’s very possible. It just follows that model of, okay, how do we get it 1% better now? We got to 5%. Okay, well how do we get to six? It’s not impossible but it’s definitely hard and it requires testing.


Then the last one is landing pages. Right now, people who run ads to a product page or they run it to their homepage or maybe to a collections page, you’re basically telling a consumer, hey, you got to keep clicking around or if you go to a product page, you might be at the product page, but it’s like now I’m just at a page that’s selling me a product. I’m not getting introduced to it or walking this red carpet where I’m getting told about what the product is and how it’s going to benefit me. And so, we’ve seen a lot of times that brands that have a 2 to 3% conversion rate on their site are getting to 7 to 10% with a really good landing page that walks them through a pretty specific problem and solution and benefit from the product, and also educates them along the whole way back to what you were saying earlier talks about what is the product, why does it exist, why is this the best one on the market? How do I get it?


I think if anything, if you’re spending any money on paid social, landing pages is a no-brainer just because why would you not try to get a three times higher conversion rate or two times higher conversion rate from a pretty small investment. You don’t have to use hooks or other agencies, you could go to Shopify’s app store and go find a page builder and just put them together. You want to educate them and teach them. Instead of focusing on, “Okay, well if we want to get our CPA better, we have to drop our price 20%.” Well, how about you take that 20% margin, educate somebody up to where they say, “Oh, I should pay full price for this,” versus discounting. That’s something that landing pages help you do, but I think those four are probably four pretty easy ones that most people can do without spending really a bunch of money at all.

Ben Grynol (38:37):

If you don’t send people to a landing page, it’s a very weird experience. You run some piece of creative and the CTA drives people to… assume it drives people to basically a checkout page. They’re in the flow and it’s like, yeah, that’s the lowest friction thing, but people are going to be like, “It’s weird. The outside of the house does not look like the inside of the house.” It’s just such a jarring experience. And so, then everyone’s like, “Man, I can’t understand why there’s such a high bounce on this.”


Well, there’s a high bounce because run the ideal scenario, and this is back to having the right brand touchpoints. Capital B brand versus just cohesion of a brand, the ideal world is you’re running some piece of creative and that matches where people end up for a landing page where it feels complimentary and it’s like, “Oh, I’m not being tricked.” Your Athletic Greens, your Levels, your whatever it is, your some brand, you’ve got some piece of content that’s running, shows a product, people understand the value prop, they get there and there’s a rendering of the product again as opposed to some convoluted thing of people land on some great lifestyle-looking site, and everyone’s like, “What? I don’t understand. Nik’s lifting weights. There’s some guy just lifting weights.” And you’re like, it’s so disconnected than the cup pouring the green liquid that you just saw there. And you go, “Is this the same thing?” And then they’re like, “Ah, Command+W, I’m out. Later.”

Nik Sharma (40:10):

The consistency, it’s funny, that’s one thing that when we say it, it’s so obvious, but it’s something that in practice is very rare where you click an ad and the matching product is what’s on the next screen, because I think just having been on the Facebook side too, the thought is like, “All right, well, new landing page, let’s just take our best performing creative and that way we isolate the testing variable to be the page itself.” Because we already know that the creative works, but the consistency is a big thing that a lot of marketers don’t tend to catch. I don’t catch it a lot of times too, or not a lot of times, but there’s been a few times where I’ll completely miss it, and then later, you go over it and you’re like, “Wait, this doesn’t even make sense. Of course, it didn’t work. We were showing this girl wearing this beautiful jacket or sweater and we ended up on a page selling jeans.” Of course, that doesn’t make any sense.

Ben Grynol (41:07):

I’m so curious about this riffing on the idea, have you ever tested anything given performance right now in how UGC is really ripping for a lot of people in the DTC space, but anything where it was like UGC was running as the creative and the landing page was basically that same person but maybe it’s put together properly, maybe not some weird quote and they’re smiling where it feels jarring, but some continuation of something that feels UGC. Have you seen that happen?

Nik Sharma (41:42):

Yeah. We do that a lot for influencers, where if we run an ad using their handle and their image or video, they’ll be featured all over the lander, or it’s like if it’s like Jess is the name of the influencer, it’s like this is Jess’ favorites is the bundle that they’re buying, or shop Jess’s favorites, but it’s really just bestsellers. That’s one way to do it. The other way is we actually have done some lander tests where we’ll take UGC, drive to the lander, but then the lander is almost just full of UGC, so other very similar UGC. Instagram story clips that will host on Vimeo and put on the landing page, and those do really, really well, especially for a younger demo and especially on TikTok traffic.

Ben Grynol (42:37):

Man, that’s so neat because the influencer one is pretty understandable where it’s like, yeah I mean, we’ve got levels.link/tim. It’s like there’s Ferris, but we’re not running creative where it’s like Tim is doing something you land on Tim. We’ve got some stuff with Mark Hyman like that, but the idea of Billy McGee, just some rando.

Nik Sharma (43:01):

That’s actually one of my best friends.

Ben Grynol (43:04):

For real?

Nik Sharma (43:04):

No, I’m just kidding.

Ben Grynol (43:06):

That’s the fictional name that I use for any rando, but so Billy McGee is like the UGC and then you land and there’s like Billy and maybe some of Billy’s friends. That is an interesting thing because it’s kind of disconnected. You forget as long as there’s still that trust of, I do trust this as Athletic Greens, but you’re building this new type of trust where it’s like these are people that seem real, because I think sometimes there’s always going to be trust with levels.link/tim, but people know that influencers are getting paid to do this thing so maybe the trust is like, “Well, if Tim trusts it, I do trust it.”


But you might trust these random people almost like that’s a lot of results of just these normal-looking people using this thing and they seem to like it and it doesn’t feel manufactured with, they’re like, “Get Hint Water today.” It’s like, “Oh man, I used to actually not drink water. It was a big problem and then all of a sudden I started drinking Hint.” I mean, that’s Liquid Death. That is literally, that’s how they’ve built their brand.

Nik Sharma (44:02):

Their entire marketing strategy is UGC, but I would say when we build a landing page, we often think about a couple things. One is what is the source of traffic, so which page channel is this coming from? Because that dictates what the UX of the page needs to look like or how it needs to flow. The second thing we look at is what is the intent of this traffic? Is this prospecting traffic? Is this retargeting traffic? Is this lapsed subscriber’s traffic? Because that’ll also dictate then how we speak about the product.


Then the last thing we look at is what’s the demographic, what’s really just the age of this traffic? Is it older, is it Millennials, is it Gen Z? We don’t really advertise younger than Gen Z, but depending on that for the last point, we might say our brag bar or the social proof area of the page, it might be New York Times, Town & Country, and Architectural Digest, or Reader Magazine if it’s an older demo, if it’s a younger demo, might be PopSugar, Refinery29, BuzzFeed, quotes from those places. Then if it’s really young, we almost don’t even put any of those press logos because they’re useless and irrelevant to Gen Z. They want to know what do just people say, what were reviews, like genuine reviews. Ideally, you’re showcasing reviews that also speak to the benefits that correlate back to the traffic that’s coming into the page.

Ben Grynol (45:33):

That’s so interesting. Bring this one home here, where do you think companies given today’s landscape are leaving the most money on the table?

Nik Sharma (45:45):

I mean, I still think landing pages is the easiest win. I think another one is probably not testing enough, like thinking you’re above testing things that don’t feel “on-brand” is another easy one. The last one I would say, if you’re a brand you’re not already doing UGC or have tested UGC and genuine UGC, not paying these people on Twitter 50 bucks because they call themselves a UGC creator. But actually working with customers or finding customers who are down to record videos for you or send you videos, that’s a huge one that I think is underrated.

Ben Grynol (46:32):

Yeah, because the thing is if you flow product, people are very down, and that’s where back to the whole idea of people feeling bought into brands, movements, communities, they feel very part of it. If you reach out, you specifically reach out to somebody, let’s say with, it doesn’t matter, with any brand, but you reach out from limited, let’s say that being a brand. “Hey, I wanted to get your feedback on this. I’ll give you a shout-out on next week’s episode.”

Nik Sharma (47:03):


Ben Grynol (47:04):

Long Wknd, same thing. It’s like, hey, by the way, people are like, “Man, Nik’s reaching out to me right now. This is crazy.” They’re going to do it because they’re already invested in you.

Nik Sharma (47:12):


Ben Grynol (47:14):

What are your takeaways here, your closers?

Nik Sharma (47:17):

My takeaways would be don’t get romantic about how your brand is perceived. Do a bunch of testing and learning and ask customers why they came to you or why they didn’t even buy. I think one underrated thing is asking people why they didn’t buy if they’re trying to leave or if they have left. Those answers are also super, super valuable.