Building A Media Arm from the Ground Up with Thingtesting’s Head of Content Natalie Sportelli
Known as a platform to read trustworthy reviews and discover new brands, Thingtesting is the consumer’s guide to modern retail. We caught up with Thingtesting's Head of Content Natalie Sportelli to learn more about what it takes to build a media arm from the ground up.
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.
Brands such as Graza, Rootless, and Dandylion have all participated in recent Thingdrops.
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.”
- What to pledge
- How to improve
- Which tools will set you up for success
I think the most important thing brands can do in 2023 is to better manage their customer data—both ethically and effectively. There’s an opportunity for brands to know their customers better than ever before—a clear benefit for both the customer and the brand. When you manage your data correctly, you’ll create stronger and more personalized ads, creative, site experiences, and so much more.
This is a classic: Let the data guide you. Go where the buyers for your products are and communicate with them on a personal level (i.e. by persona and funnel position) and nurture those relationships (past, present, and future customers). It’s possible—all through data.
We recommend that Shopify brands analyze and update their websites using data-driven decisions. Using analytics tools such as heatmaps and scrollmaps can help brands better understand how customers are interacting with their store.
Store owners tend to make assumptions about the way customers interact with their website. Most never go back and analyze their design choices to find pain points or areas of opportunity. By using heatmaps and scrollmaps, they can see where real customers are clicking and concentrating their attention. Leveraging this data, brands can start to iterate on design and make their online store experience streamlined and intuitive.
Hotjar provides a simple way to implement heatmaps, scrollmaps, and recorded user sessions on your site, helping you acquire incredibly informative user data. Additionally, it gives you the ability to create on-site surveys, which allows you to obtain direct and often critical feedback from users about their experience.
Test various attribution models and analyze the impact on your business. At Fifty Six, we are always here to help our clients identify and optimize their approach—a critical step in any successful marketing strategy.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times–Customer Lifetime Value. And even more importantly, Future Lifetime Value (FLTV). With the ever-growing importance of first-party data, it is crucial that brands take a good look at their CRM and FLTV metrics.
OrderlyEmails is our go-to tool for transactional emails. It helps us level up our brands’ email aesthetics with customizable, quick-to-implement Shopify templates.
Lately, I’ve been really interested in Smile.io’s loyalty platform. Their UX is fantastic for teams with low bandwidth!
Stop allocating budgets to low-hanging fruit that doesn’t move the needle on conversion. Think about what’s really going to improve your CX and the return of undertaking different initiatives—not just on what’s top on your list of bugbears on the site!
One of the best ways to understand your customer behavior is by using HotJar. Their heat-mapping and screen recording tools shine a light on where customers are navigating to and from on your site, where they're rage clicking and experiencing frustration, and where conversion is dropping off within real life customer journeys and flows!
Understanding your customers’ pain points via data and analytics , will allow you to work with your CRO/CX Agency to solve customer frustrations and improve conversion.
Rewind backs up all product, customer, and order data for Shopify sites—essential since Shopify itself doesn’t provide this solution. It's saved so many of our clients time and money from administrative accidents.
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33% of customer service inquiries are pre-sale questions. What does this mean? If you’re not investing in customer service, you’re missing out on revenue-generating opportunities.
The benefits of elevating your customer experience:
- 10% to 25% increase in AOV for customers who engage with live chat pre-purchase
- 21x higher conversion rate for customers who reach out via Live Chat or SMS compared to other site visitors
- 87% of customers who have a great customer experience will make another purchase
- 72% of customers share positive experiences with 6 or more individuals
Gorgias is our favorite Helpdesk platform. They can reduce costs by 35%, primarily by decreasing the average ticket handle time. Their machine learning algorithms are trained on millions of ecommerce-related interactions across Gorgias’ customer base and provide accurate, automated replies for the most common ecommerce inquiries. This helps our agents resolve tickets faster, which provides the customer a seamless experience.
Trust your agency! Agencies do the same things across multiple brands and niches, so we see the trends and have the practice and experience!
Don't be afraid of data and insights. If customers aren't clicking on your emails, try a new CTA. If your ads are driving good metrics at a small spend, start scaling. If your customers are complaining about a product, look into QA! If the data tells you something isn't working, let it go and try something else!
I'm supposed to say Tydo, right? 😉
Double down on differentiation. There will be a lot of headwinds this year and standing out from the crowd will set you apart.
A picture is worth 1,000 words. A video? Probably millions. In ecommerce that value translates into engagement, acquisition, and retention—everything you need to impact your bottom line.
At soona, we've seen the we've seen the impact of creative and the continuous split testing of it yield results. Our resolution is to challenge ourselves and double down on innovation and creative optionality so that each brand we work with can distinguish themselves in a crowded sea of D2C ecomm. We'd love to see our brands share this resolution and keep pushing the creative limits.
Klaviyo. We're using it to power our email and newsletter at soona too!
Optimize your returns strategy! This can lead to valuable customer insights, enhanced user experiences, and increased revenue and customer loyalty.
Brands need to dive deeper into understanding their customers to set themselves up for success. Conduct research to gain insights into customer needs, preferences, and behaviors. By doing so, you can develop targeted strategies that will enhance customer experience and boost overall retention.
Right now I would say Gorgias. Having a good customer service tool is crucial to building strong customer relationships.
Start paying heavy attention to data, specifically around retention. We see a lot of effort put towards acquisition with the assumption that once someone buys, they are your customer forever. Instead, get to know your customer, understand their needs, and analyze their behaviors once they are on-site and judge their sentiment after they have visited. Work with a retention focused and data-driven agency to implement tools that contribute to repeat business and customer delight. It will pay dividends.
When surveyed, about 80% of ecommerce merchants think that they are delivering a great experience to their customers. However, when the same customers are surveyed, only 8% of those customers think that they are getting a great experience from the merchant. Now, more than ever, retaining loyal customers is an essential part of any online business and you should spend time with your customers to judge their experience with your website and products and offer improvements based on that feedback.
Tydo's report cards are an essential tool, along with Klaviyo for email and SMS, Recharge for subscriptions and memberships, Okendo for reviews and surveys, Rebuy for AI driven collections and upsells, Loop for self service returns... each tool is great on their own, but their strength as the ultimate tool comes from when they are used together!
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Report Cards is a customized glimpse into your business, delivered to your inbox for free.
Report Cards consolidates all your key metrics across platforms for an at-a-glance pulse of your business.
Discover metrics for every team member so they can stay updated with the right data on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.
It's free because we believe everyone should have access to the basics.
Portfolio is a hub for analytics across multiple Shopify stores. The perfect tool for agencies.
See an aggregate view of all your data for all your stores in one place.
Make real time assessments on marketing initiatives across every storefront you manage.
Analyze the performance of one store versus another in seconds.
More about the project
Here at Tydo, we try to highlight DTC founders who run their business in various ways. And, that's because there's no "right" way to run a DTC brand.
This project illustrates exactly that. Whether it's how a founder supports their team or how they talk about mental health in the workplace, every founder has a different approach. How do they discover these different approaches? One way: reading. Discover the greatest books that have changed the way 15+ founders think about or operate their business.
You can also listen to these book picks on Spotify or Anchor.fm.