Check out Andy's latest appearance on the Foodpreneurs podcast, Females In Food. You can listen by clicking the link and check out the transcript below if you prefer to read!
How Foodpreneurs Can Increase DTC Sales Through Digital Marketing
Chelsea: What’s your business, Andy?
Andy: I run PPC Pitbulls. We’re a digital marketing agency and are specifically focused on working with e-commerce brands. We started out in Google Ads, that’s where PPC comes from - Pay Per Click. But now, as we’ve started working with these e-commerce brands, we’ve found that there’s not just a single solution or single platform. Now, we take a more holistic approach. I work with small to medium brands, especially passionate founders, and help them find success online, making more sales through the DTC channel.
Chelsea: You love working with craft food and drink brands, don’t you?
Andy: Absolutely! I never know if people will understand or not, but that’s a term we’ve tried to coin ourselves. As I describe, hopefully, you’ll have a picture in your mind of the type of brand. Typically, it’s food or fashion, but we always say, “It’s great people making great products.” We love working with small solopreneurs or couple-person shops, where the founders are really passionate about their product, focused on injecting high quality even if it’s at a higher price-point, making sure it’s an authentic quality product. Often, they have a little bit of a mission behind it, such as giving back to the community. All those things make a brand so much more fun to work with.
Chelsea: I, too, have wrestled with a number of terms, and, of course, landed on foodpreneur, but in the UK, I’m calling them challenger brands and good food or craft in the US. I used to say artisan. I think we’re on the right path and the people listening are hopefully nodding their heads.
E-commerce success is what we’re talking about today, which I think is amazingly helpful, particularly for our foodpreneurs with a direct-to-consumer (DTC) channel approach. It frightens people - e-commerce - because they don’t really understand it or it’s not really their area of expertise. Where should we begin, Andy?
Andy: I think why I’m so passionate about e-commerce is that it gives the founder and the brand a little more control. They’re not beholden to the folks you’re selling into. They’re not worried about how much shelf space they’re going to get or where that shelf space is located. When it’s e-commerce, you own the channel, you own the data that’s coming in, and you own all of your sales and marketing. The downside is that’s also part of what makes it scary. You invest a ton of money, get it all set up, and you don’t get any purchases. So how do we get some purchases in? Or you do get some purchases and it’s on you to worry about delivering it, making sure you’re getting product in quickly enough - and freshly in the food world. As far as the best place to start, that’s getting a beautiful website that people can get to and easily make a purchase. Make sure you have the capacity to fill orders.
We worked with an ice cream brand. They did a lot of business with local shops during the summertime. They even did a lot of pop-ups where they had brand ambassadors going out. They came to me and wanted to get some ads going out to increase purchases through e-commerce. After we talked for a while we learned that the way they were going to be packaging and shipping orders out was re-purposing the labor from the pop-ups and using them to pack and ship the e-commerce orders in the wintertime. That’s probably the lowest time when people want to purchase ice cream. They didn’t want to hire any new help so they had a maximum of 30 orders they could ship each week. When you do the math, there wasn’t enough profit there to make sense of spending any money to run ads.
I use that as an example because people often overlook that. They think about all the marketing channels and ask, “How much am I going to spend on Google Ads or Facebook Ads?” First and foremost, make sure you have a good-looking website, that you’re able to convert when customers come, and the ability to scale up and sell enough of your product so that when you do get that demand, you’re able to meet it.
Chelsea: I love that you brought up capacity because there’s an inordinate amount of focus on sell-sell-sell. Don’t get me wrong, as a former sales director, and selling for a lot of my career in food, sales is my passion and probably underdone by a lot of foodpreneurs. But capacity and being able to supply takes a lot of skill and pre-planning. So I love that you brought that up. It’s really important that you don’t over-promise and under-deliver because it will just be a waste of your money and of your time. I am curious, however, because you said it a couple of times about a beautiful website. In your experience and opinion, are there particular websites that are better suited to e-commerce and sales, also do you need a fully optimized website, or can you just have a landing page with a Shopify backend? Can that work to drive up DTC sales?
Andy: It depends on what your mission is and what your business is. I love that you brought up Shopify. I always recommend Shopify to anyone getting started. In the olden days, w were running these custom websites, but the problem is that there are some really basic steps of showing the product, adding it to the cart, starting your checkout, and maybe even creating an account. Shopify does it better than any other platform for my money at least at the entry-level tier. Don’t pay a developer a million dollars to create this highly custom website from scratch. Go ahead and use one of these tools like Shopify. It’s going to manage your inventory and all those different things. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be a small product line, a single landing page, or a couple of landing pages. But the big thing you want is to be visually appealing. I’m sure you’ve been to a few websites that look like they were built in the early days of the internet and customers may not feel comfortable putting their credit card in there. Look relatively modern. It doesn’t have to be anything crazy or too complex. Make sure it’s quick and easy for someone to get from seeing the product, making the decision to buy it, all the way through to completing checkout. It shouldn’t be a slow process with pages loading too slowly and entering their information should not be a challenge. Some of these platforms like Shopify allow customer information to auto-populate from when they’ve entered their information in another site that uses Shopify.
Chelsea: As a consumer, I habitually and lovingly order from people in my network all the time. In fact, I’m expecting a delivery today from a foodpreneur. They use Shopify and goodness knows that neither you nor I are promoting that brand. I just happen to know that the pre-population of my information is there and I get pinged on my mobile phone and I really like it. It’s easy and I feel a degree of safety using it which is really important. I want to pivot to your area of expertise around driving traffic to the store. Let’s start with Google vs. Meta. How do you approach that when a foodpreneur comes to you and says, “I need to drive more traffic to my site and I need to get more sales.” What are your thought patterns there?
Andy: I am a little bit biased toward Google because that’s where I got my start and I really do love the platform. For anyone out there listening who’s tried to run Facebook Ads, you know it can be quite a bear. Working through the technicals of their website is not the best. That being said, there’s definitely a place for both. We always recommend both.
Facebook is what we call interruption-based marketing, where you’re in a feed looking at your friends’ photos, and all of the sudden an ad pops up. Whereas Google is intent-based marketing, where you’re actively searching. You’re lower down in the funnel and ready to make the purchase.
When you’re just starting out and no one knows about your brand, especially if it’s something that takes a lot of education to tell your story, the case with a lot of craft food brands, there’s something special about it. You’re not the same as the big guys sitting on store shelves. There’s something authentic and special here, but it’s not necessarily obvious when you look at the packaging. That’s where Facebook or Meta is going to be great because you’re getting more time to tell your story. It’s more visual. There’s a bit more education involved. People aren't necessarily ready to make their purchase; they’re in a learning phase. Yet, at the same time, Google can often be a quicker way to profit at a small level. Once people do start searching for your brand; once people know what they want from you, the nice thing about Google is that you know they are already looking for your product or something similar, so they’re ready to buy. I would suggest a combination of both. If you’re just starting out and you’re in a market where there are enough alternatives and people are searching for a product like yours, get started on Google and let them search for you.
If you’re looking to scale and find a lot of new customers, or if your product needs explanation or a little more education, that’s where Facebook is going to be great for you. You can use video and other visuals, and take a little more time to tell the story behind your brand.
Chelsea: What kind of time should people commit to this? In my experience of seeing people stop and start, there’s a lot of fear around money. I’m just wondering if you suggest that people commit to this for a 12-month period or switch between Google and Meta as people become more aware of their products and they move further down into the marketing funnel.
Andy: All of these approaches work together, and ultimately, you’re trying to build relationships with an audience. The longer you can do it, the more likely people are going to have multiple touchpoints with your brand, and ultimately fall in love with it. That being said, on either platform, once you get started, it’s not always clear whether or not you’re going to be profitable. I would look for profitability - whatever that means to you - are you able to meet your goals at a basic level in the first 12 weeks? When you’re getting started, you’re using automated bidding models on either platform. This means you’re not telling them you’re going to pay “x” amount per click, you’re giving them a daily budget. Then Google or Meta can spend it as they like with the intent to help you meet your goals.
That takes some learning, for both platforms, to get some data back in. Your product showed up in front of people like this; some purchased, some didn’t. Next time, let’s show up in front of people who are more similar demographically to the people who did purchase. We call that the learning phase. Give it at least a few weeks, up to 12 weeks, to get through that learning phase. On the other hand, if you do go 12 weeks and you’re not seeing any improvement, any increase in ROAS (return on ad spend), or your cost per click go down, it may mean there are other things in your business you need to figure out or other points where you’re not at the level where you can profitably use these tools.
I always suggest not to put a ton of money into it right away. Think about failing fast, testing something out, finding profit on a small scale, and then trying to grow up from there. But if you can’t find profit on a small scale, take a step back and figure out what are some of the other things you can check off the list first before you go back in to resolve that.
Chelsea: I think it’s worth highlighting what you alluded to in that people would come to you with their creative imagery, visuals, and video, plus the copy and their budget; and over time, I suspect that you would test aspects of that by turning parts on and off to see which ones work and which ones don’t, right?
Andy: Exactly. That’s another point with starting small and starting simple. You want to start with just a few campaigns. You might want to start just on Google before you do both Google and Facebook. Or, if you’re already within Google, you may just want to have one or two campaigns: creative types or headlines & descriptions with different variables. We use Responsive Search or Performance Max, both allow up to 15 headlines, so that’s a good way to start. But don’t start six different campaigns like that, each with its own 15 different variations. As you go, you begin to check things off and test results. We’re going to get better and better and start scaling once we find profitability. When you’re first starting out, focus on the low-hanging fruit like remarketing to people who already know about your brand or those you absolutely know are your ideal customers. You don’t need to start with expanding your scope or getting out into different markets until you can prove that you can be profitable in the places where you’re most likely to be successful.
Chelsea: Retargeting. Does that mean that the foodpreneur would share the data from their website?
Andy: Absolutely! There are two main ways to do that. One way is with a pixel set up on the website. Both Google and Meta allow that and it’s automated. When someone visits your site or performs a specific action, like a purchase, we’re sending that data back to Google or Meta.
The other way is with your first-party data, your email list, Both platforms will allow you to upload that email list into the platform and treat it the same way. You’re telling the platforms that these are good customers, people we know who like our product and have frequented our site or made purchases. You can tell them you want to get back in front of your best customers with your newest information because you know they’re most likely to buy. You want to spend some ad dollars on them. Or, you can use this in an automated way and allow Google or Facebook to find other customers that “look” like our best customers.
Chelsea: Another reason DTC foodpreneurs need to be really slick, not necessarily creative, but consistent in collecting email addresses and communicating with those people regularly.
Andy: That’s the most important thing I tell everybody. When we talk about digital marketing maturity - things you need to have in line before you start spending a ton of money on paid ads - that’s one of the biggest things: collecting and properly using first-party email data. You’ve probably heard of the changes with iOS14. Some of the changes Apple made rendered both Facebook and Google a little less effective. That’s the automated cookie piece that’s coming from your browser. As a result, that first-party data, that email data, becomes much more valuable. You can use it in the way I just described, where you’re uploading it back to the different platforms. But you also own this channel and own this relationship with your customer, you can improve that with email marketing.
A lot of what we talk about with Google or Facebook, yes, we want them to make the purchase, but more importantly, we want to use those tools as a funnel to get people into our email marketing lists. So when you’re sending out your blasts and telling about your new product or a new sale you’re running, it’s going to almost always be one of your most profitable channels. It’s reaching out to people who already know your brand and with whom you already have a relationship.
Chelsea: Absolutely. I run a digital business. Without a doubt, the people who know, like, and trust me the most, my paying members, are the first to jump on anything I do. They’re the subscribers who hear from me on a consistent basis. We recently used our list to promote a workshop we were doing on distribution and pricing, and the email list was where we got the most return on our investment.
Is there a case study or brand we can send people to that have done it really well in terms of driving traffic to their website and why do you think they’re so good?
Andy: It’s different for every brand as each brand has its own identity. One brand I’ve been looking at recently, and I love what they’re doing is Fly by Jing. It’s an authentic custom pepper sauce that is beautiful. And their marketing is beautiful! I found them on TikTok. They’ve got great ads at the top of the funnel when you’re learning about what makes their product special. They’ve got these great visuals that really make it seem like something I’d be using in the house. Once I ordered from them, their email marketing has continued to nurture the relationship. The first package I received had an insert with the story of the brand with the founder right there. Everything was beautifully tied together with the brand imagery that I had become accustomed to.
Chelsea: I love that. I love to be super generous, and people love the show notes where they can click through and follow all that knowledge and expertise that you and I share and can see what we’re describing in practice.
Now I want to ask you about budgeting because, for me, it’s like taking a turn in a car down a long, dark tunnel that I’ve never been in before. How much money should foodpreneurs who haven’t done much marketing put aside?
Andy: Let me say I love your analogy of going down a long, dark tunnel. Whenever we start talking about budgets, first, know what your goals are. Know what’s profitable for you, but also know what outcomes you’re looking for. It’s not just sales online. You might want to break into a new market or get a higher ROAS or any other specific metric you want to record. It may even be that you have too much of a particular product and you want to start running some ads to move it. What are the margins you can accept? What do you really need in terms of results? What type of results do you need? We want to find 30-50 purchases for a particular ad, ad set, or campaign to get that data feeding back into the model to see if it’s going to be profitable. If we typically see a specific ROAS (revenue divided by ad spend) of 2x or 3x, for every dollar we put into ad spend, we’re going to get back $2-3 in revenue. Then if you’re looking for 50 purchases and you know your average order value, you can do the math and figure out how much you have to spend to get a 3x or even 4x ROAS. Just be sure you’re keeping a pretty simple setup because if you’re going to run six different campaigns and you need 50 purchases from each one, you’ve just multiplied your ad spend by six.
If you’re a small solopreneur and you’re looking to build your online channel, typically $2-5,000 per month is a good starting range. That way you’ll have enough spend on these platforms to see if it’s going to work or not. If you have a high average order value, you can expect those numbers to be a little higher.
If you are working with an agency, make sure you are measuring your purchases. Make sure you’re getting at least some level of results in the first month or two. It won’t be optimized or where you need it to be but if you’re not breaking even on a revenue basis in the first month or two, there are some hard questions that need to be asked. I would say $3-5,000/month and don’t let it run too long with zero purchases.
Chelsea: For me, I equate that to onboarding a new staff member. When I recruit someone new, I don’t really expect a return on my investment for about 12 weeks (for a part-time contractor), What you’ve just described for foodpreneurs listening is that they need to budget for that ramping up and plan on not making that money back for at least 12 weeks.
Andy: Agreed, but you should be able to expect to at least break even pretty early on. But obviously breaking even on ad spend to revenue is not getting profit for you, so expect to be losing money early on in the engagement, and then you should be seeing improvement throughout those 12 weeks. You should be closer and closer to profit, but don’t let it run forever if you’re just seeing a flat line.
Chelsea: I like to manage people’s expectations and take an educational approach to this. There are a lot of misnomers and a potential lack of understanding in terms of the level of commitment required. On that note, is consistency important? Should craft brand owners consider that once they start e-commerce marketing and driving traffic to their site, they should do it every day of the year?
Andy: I would say yes, with the caveat that in holiday seasons you’re going to ramp up with more demand and spend a little more money. But especially with Google, don’t plan on flipping it on and off all the time. This is all automated and it’s always learning. So every time you turn it off, and then try to turn it back on, you go back into a learning phase and things are different. If you do need to save some budget, I would suggest dropping down your spend instead of shutting it off completely. Facebook and Instagram tend to work a little better with tuning things off and on, but you will still have that learning phase problem where you’ve got to make sure you’re feeding enough data back in. But if you’re turning it off, then you’re essentially starting over to try to get those 50 purchases again.
Chelsea: Amazing. So helpful. Thank you so much. I think you’ve really outlined what success looks like for e-commerce marketing, e-commerce brands, and DTC. Is there one last tip you’d like to finish on so we’re really helping people deliver success, Andy?
Andy: The two big things to get in place are collecting emails and utilizing them and then measuring results. Whatever you do, don’t get started throwing money at a million different channels and not knowing what results you’re getting. Make sure you’re either hitting your goals or working toward hitting them fairly quickly. You can’t do that if you’re not set up properly to track success.
Chelsea: I love that you mentioned tracking results. I have a spreadsheet that records the number of people who have opened, the number who have clicked, and who has converted. I’m watching it the whole time. It’s up to me, the business owner, to be consistent with my own measurement. Thanks very much, Andy.