How to Build A Media Arm from the Ground Up with Thingtesting’s Head of Content Natalie Sportelli
Why are there so many DTC olive oil brands? How are consumer brands entering the Web3 conversation? Does every DTC brand need to focus on building community? What’s the real difference between Parachute, Brooklinen, and Boll & Branch?
Thingtesting’s content answers all these questions—and practically any question you might have about the DTC space.
Known as a platform to read trustworthy reviews and discover new brands, Thingtesting is the consumer’s guide to modern retail. Led by Natalie Sportelli, Thingtesting’s content team is growing rapidly (check out their incredible TikTok). They’re on a mission to become a trusted resource for consumers looking to make more informed purchase decisions.
We caught up with Natalie to learn more about what it takes to build a media arm from the ground up, how brands can evaluate emerging channels, and why the Thingtesting team is bullish on Thingdrops.
Thingtesting’s Content Ethos
At its core, Thingtesting is all about discovery and vetting of new brands.
Content is just one of the ways Thingtesting users can reach that discovery phase, especially through their social channels aka where Thingtesting was born.
Ultimately, Thingtesting hopes to be a resource for consumers, who are curious about DTC brands and eager to learn more about what’s going on in the space.
Most readers fall somewhere between total novices and expert-level DTC nerds. But, what’s the common thread? They’re all naturally curious. They want to discover new trends to watch and brands to follow, and they want to know if what they’re seeing on the internet is actually worth the hype.
Paired with unique visuals, each content piece helps consumers understand what’s happening in DTC and whether or not they really should buy that adaptogenic drink or better-for-you Nutella brand through honest community reviews. Piece by piece, Thingtesting serves as your friendly guide to the modern retail space.
“We answer high-level questions that consumers (and our team) are asking. Why are brands sending so many text messages? What’s up with QR codes?”
The #1 Priority: Community and Audience-driven Content
Every month, Natalie makes a conscious effort to reach out to the Thingtesting community, understand their curiosities, and ask what kinds of content they seek out.
She explains, “The guiding force behind Thingtesting’s content is our community.”
For example, one Thingtesting reader noticed a sudden surge in DTC tea companies and wanted to know why. So, the Thingtesting team listened, explored the topic, and wrote a killer story all about it.
Another great example is a Thingtesting story from early January: “Direct-to-consumer brands dip their toes in the world of NFTs.”
From research and conversations, Natalie and her team noticed that Thingtesting readers were interested in learning more about the intersection of Web3 and DTC. So, they drafted up a story, and it’s one of Thingtesting’s most popular and shared pieces to date.
How do they measure the value of community and content?
Natalie looks at newsletter subscribers and overall engagement.
Any consumer can join Thingtesting and start writing reviews. But, more engaged community members sign up for the newsletter and actively read and share Thingtesting’s content.
“I want our community to be involved in the content creation process. We listen as much as possible, instead of saying we know best.”
Building an All-Star Content Team
Building a content team from ground zero is 10x more work than starting at level one.
Based on her own experience, Natalie says that it’s much more effective to look at what’s already in the brand’s arsenal and start there.
Some key questions to ask:
- What do we have to work with?
- Where is our audience spending the time?
Instead of diving into brand new channels, focus on what’s already there and make an immediate impact.
Before joining Thingtesting, Natalie was Director of Brand & Content at Lerer Hippeau. When she joined the team, she immediately saw value in building a newsletter. Lerer Hippeau’s audience lived in the inbox, and she saw an opportunity to take the newsletter to the next level. She focused on building that, and then she launched new channels down the line.
Early content hires should focus on building the distribution engine. Then, they can expand into new channels.
“Take what already exists, and make it as high-impact and valuable as possible. Then, amplify it.”
Leaning into Emerging Channels with a Testing-First Mentality
More and more DTC brands are making big moves into the content world. But, they all fall into crowded categories, and they’re all fighting for the same SEO.
To stand out, brands should ask themselves:
- What’s our unique POV?
- How can we approach content in a way that only we can do?
After nailing down the brand’s unique voice and perspective, it’s time for the team to decide which channels they’re going to test.
The question on every brand’s mind: Should we be on every channel?
Natalie says that approach only makes sense if the brand has the bandwidth to maintain and upkeep those channels.
Ultimately, DTC brands should only show up in places where they can offer consistent value, not ghost customers. Otherwise, they’ll risk losing a ripe audience.
She explains, “There’s no rush to show up everywhere at once. Test and see what performs well.”
It all boils down to testing. That’s exactly what Thingtesting does with their content. For instance, they published a piece on how bootstrapped DTC brands grow on their own that resonated with their target audience. Based on that feedback, Natalie and her team now have a ton of ideas for future articles all around bootstrapping (i.e. how brand founders earned their first check).
“Testing gets derisked the more you listen to your audience,” she notes.
“The best way to distribute content is to understand where your audience spends their time. You don’t have to be everywhere at once.”
Thingdrops 101: Encouraging and Rewarding Community
The hottest product launch at Thingtesting: Thingdrops. It’s their new product testing program exclusively for their reviewer community.
Every other Tuesday, in their community newsletter run by Community Lead Emma Chozick, newly-launched brands offer their product at a heavily discounted rate, and in exchange, consumers share their reviews and feedback on Thingtesting.
To better understand the hype, Natalie says the Graza Thingdrop sold out in six minutes.
So, why is the Thingtesting team pumped about Thingdrops?
From user interviews and research, they know that so many DTC brands want reviews. They want product feedback. They want people to adopt the product. They want UGC.
And, Thingdrops are the ideal opportunity for just that.
“It’s a great way to get people to try out your product, especially since it’s so difficult to launch a brand right now.”
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