The Wild West of Influencer, Creators, and Commerce with Blake Robbins
We sat down with Blake to dive deep on the creator-led commerce ecosystem, his personal investing criteria at Ludlow, and the next frontier of digital influence and attention.
Ludlow Ventures: Founder-Driven Investing
For Blake and the Ludlow team, there isn’t a set framework or strict thesis. It boils down to a bet on the founders. You always have to assume there’s another team working on the same idea at the same time, so why is this founder going to win versus another?
When it comes to investments in the creator-led commerce space, Blake looks for the brand’s unique positioning to win, and whether founders can clearly articulate that advantage.
Diving even deeper, Blake elaborates on his criteria at Ludlow:
- Can the team tell real stories and can they win off supply chain edges?
- Does a creator’s unique insight lend to clear acquisition advantages?
- How do you get consumers to pay attention and use your products?
- What’s your initial wedge and how do you expand out from there?
“This is my basic criteria. First, who are the founders? Second, are they going after a big market? Third, why are they uniquely positioned to win?”
The New Era: Creators on the Cap Table
More and more influencers and creators are becoming co-founders and joining the cap tables of commerce brands. According to Blake, the real opportunity is when the creator is genuinely passionate about the company, versus them viewing the investment as a straight-up brand deal.
All creators should be asking themselves: what categories are uniquely tied to me, and why am I partnering with this brand over another? But, there’s only a handful of creators or celebrities who can truly move the needle in certain categories. More importantly, if the category alignment is there, a creator can fluidly incorporate the product into their content in an authentic way.
In turn, it’ll sell. Not only will this drive short-term revenue, but it also unlocks paths to scale via new acquisition channels. Ultimately, the key is not to force anything, according to Blake.
The real value of getting these creators involved is when consumers are invited behind the scenes: seeing the creator working on the brand, visiting the factory, or testing new products.
“If a creator isn’t 100% passionate about a brand, nine times out of ten the project will fail. If there is true alignment, that’s when the magic happens.”
The Wild West of Commerce Analytics
In Blake’s words, it’s the wild west when it comes to data analytics across the creator-led commerce space. Some creators have incredible engagement, but there’s always the risk of tying too much of the brand to one specific person. Plus, there’s the risk of the creator leaving after they’ve invested or been named as a co-founder. Put simply, there’s a ton of unknowns.
More importantly, there just isn’t a gold standard for tracking engagement yet. The best course of action is learning from other creators. For example, if a creator gets cancelled, dive into the event and then ask yourself: how should we plan for this, and what’s our backup plan?
Without diving into specific scenarios, there’s just so much movement occurring at once. The speed of evolution is completely unprecedented. Culture is breaking down and reforming at a blazing fast pace, and early creators are quickly scaling into multi-billion dollar media brands.
“The key for creators is getting up to speed, paying attention to every trend that’s unravelling across the digital ecosystem, and then learning on the fly.”
Influence & Attention Optimization
A creator may get a million views on YouTube or TikTok but still not have any loyalty. In theory, it’s easy to get views if you work the algorithm. You can optimize it in a range of ways, but really getting people to care about you and your content is priceless. That’s true affinity.
It’s more of a balance between views and loyalty versus influence and attention. The real shift is around emerging creators that have outsized influence and loyalty compared to traditional celebrities. Ultimately, viewers feel more loyalty for creators who they’ve watched grow up.
“In its present iteration, the internet actively decides who will be famous by allocating scarce influence and attention across platforms accordingly.”
The Next Phase of Creator-Led Commerce
According to Blake, the most controversial creators are translating their loyalty and influence into successful commerce brands, and that’s because they’re the ones starved from the platforms.
Take the Nelk Boys, a YouTube group. They’re basically a bunch of partiers. Blake describes them as “Barstool meets Jackass.” They don’t make any money from YouTube, and they’re honest about that. Instead, they make their money through merch and limited drops, recently launching their own hard seltzer brand. Fans were camping out at stores just to grab a 6-pack.
There’s also a growing cohort of impressive beauty creators who are launching their own palettes and brushes, which is a natural extension of their brands. Finally, Blake points out that Barstool might still be the most complete example of a successful creator-led commerce brand in recent memory. They know their audience, and they know how to evolve with the times.
The next phase of creator-led commerce revolves around this dual ability to deeply understand one’s target audience while also knowing how to adapt, analyze data, and learn on the fly.
- 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.
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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