The scent of a specialty soap from her honeymoon stayed with Danielle Vincent as she went back to work and each time she would smell it, she was transported back to those happy memories. This sensory experience prompted her to launch Outlaw Soaps with her husband Russ. Together, the couple creates soaps that would smell like campfire, whiskey, and leather to meet the niche of specialty scents.
In this episode of Shopify Masters, we’ll hear from Danielle Vincent of Outlaw Soaps on how they navigated production and why feedback from customers are crucial.
Think of the bigger picture. Don't get bogged down in the minutia and in the small individual sales. Look at the sales over the longer period of time.
Key lessons shared by Danielle Vincent:
- Listen closely to customer feedback. Danielle realized that the major issue with scaling their business was the lack of awareness. Thanks to the feedback from customers on how difficult it was to find out them, Danielle began to learn more about search engine optimization and other marketing efforts.
- Content needs to speak to your readers. By analyzing search trends from Google and questions asked by their customers Danielle was able to create topical and relatable content that brought in more engagement.
- Entice sales by sampling. Even though a sampler kit doesn’t generate the best margins, Danielle realized that by offering a sample set allowed new customers to try out products and become repeat customers.
- Store: Outlaw Soaps
- Social Profiles: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
- Recommendations: Google Trends, Better Reports (Shopify app), Klaviyo (Shopify app), Sarah Best Strategy (FB ads agency)
Felix: Today I'm joined by Danielle Vincent from Outlaw Soaps. Outlaw Soaps creates provocative scents designed to remind people of themselves at their best. It was started in 2013 and based out of Grass Valley, California. Welcome, Danielle.
Danielle: Thank you so much for having me, Felix.
Felix: So you started this business with your husband because you wanted a daily reminder of something. What was that and what drove you to start the business?
Danielle: Sure. Well, we started the business. I was working at a desk job. I was getting to work before dawn, and I was leaving after dark. It was entertainment so it was a desk job and I was just exhausted all the time. On our honeymoon, we picked up this bar of handmade soap and I smelled it and every morning I would take a shower with it. I would smell it, I would set it down and eventually, one day I looked at the package after having a month of sniffing this soap thinking about our wonderful honeymoon. I realized that it was pretty simple ingredients. So I thought, if this reminds me of my honeymoon, what other things do I want to be reminded of?
Danielle: So we started creating scents that reminded us of our favorite things like camping, leather, gun powder, sagebrush, campfire, whiskey and stuff like that. That was really the start of this whole idea.
Felix: Makes sense. So this leap between you buying this bar of soap and you recognizing that there are other things that I would love to use as well. So you created these. Were you creating them for yourself or would you put on this business hat right from the beginning to recognize there's an opportunity to start a business, focusing on this?
Danielle: I started looking around to see if there were other things that would meet that need for me. After finding that there's some candles and stuff like that but nothing really in the personal care. How powerful scent is and I started chatting with my friends about it. Actually, my co-workers, I used to work at the Oprah Winfrey Network. So, I would be talking to my co-workers about this idea and they were so enthusiastic. As I talked to people, more and more people were like, "Yes, if you make that I will buy it."
Danielle: That was really the thing that... I initially thought it was just going to be friends of mine but we were featured on some pretty popular blogs, very early. So, we knew we had I guess, lightning in a bottle, in a way?
Felix: Makes sense. Okay. So you were going out and telling people about this idea that you had, friends and people in your network. They were super excited about it and saying that they would certainly be a customer of yours.
Felix: Was there any other kind of validation that you did about this? Or, was that enough for you to start investing your time and money into this business?
Danielle: I don't know how to explain it other than I was just 100% certain that this was something that was needed in the world. I know that that's the common refrain of many entrepreneurs but I didn't really have any other market validation other than just I couldn't find what it was. It didn't even occur to me that who would really want this stuff. It just seemed so obvious to me that everybody needed it.
Felix: Right. Yeah. I think that's certainly a path towards finding a product, finding a business, is something that's so clear to you, which I think this is about this trait of having a vision. Right? That it's so clear to you that this thing should exist in the world, why doesn't it? As an entrepreneur that is ambitious, why not you to be the one that takes it to the market.
Felix: What was that next step then? You recognized that you wanted to create this. You wanted to bring it to the world. You heard a lot of people were interested in it. What was the next step to create this? You said, there was nothing else out there. So there's probably no road map to follow to create this, right?
Danielle: Well, since it's a handmade soap company, that was really where we started. We started with making handmade soap. That is a very well documented, massive industry. There are handmade soap conventions and there are YouTube videos. We taught ourselves how to make soap using YouTube videos and online, joining communities, joining Indie Business Network and the Handcrafted Soap Makers Guild and all of these things. We really just emersed ourselves. Of course, in my ample spare time from my very demanding entertainment job, it was a lot of late evenings and early mornings on the weekends and a lot of people coming over saying, "How come you never come out anymore?"
Danielle: We knew what we wanted to do this. So we did teach ourselves how to make handmade soap. Like I said, that's just an incredibly well-documented process. We were very lucky to have a whole road map out there for us.
Felix: So, from the time that you started getting serious about it and looking up how to do this. How long did it take before you had a version of it that you were ready to start trying to sell?
Danielle: About three months. Actually, really two months, because it took us two months to learn how to make soap and then soap, it takes a month to cure. So, by the time we had the batch that we wanted to sell, it was two months. We came up with the name before we even had tried to make soap. We were so convinced that this had to happen that even if we didn't understand how to make soap right away, we knew we had the faith that we could learn to do it.
Danielle: I look back and I think that was so crazy.
Felix: Yeah. I was going to say, I think you said, you were so convinced that had to happen. You repeated this a couple of times because I bet you're thinking to yourself like, "Wow, you were delirious by the way that led to your success." When you look back on this, do you remember any times where... I think there's a honeymoon phase where any entrepreneur goes through where they have the idea.
Felix: They're super passionate about it. Was there ever a point along the way before you start seeing this traction and this success where you guys questioned it? Anybody on the early team questioned, "Maybe this is not the right thing to do."
Danielle: Oh, my gosh. For five years. Yeah. It's been a very, very weird road. For five years I really felt like, "Maybe this isn't the idea that I thought it was." We'd get super amazing traction by being featured in a major publication or Uncrate or Cowboys and Indians Magazine or on the front page of Yahoo. Then we would go dry months where we'd maybe make $1,000 in a month.
Danielle: Especially, for the first year, we had almost no strangers placing an order. It was always, "Oh, sure, I know General Lee." And so, it was absolutely so difficult and there glimmers of traction but until the last seven months, I would say, that those glimmers of traction were glimmers, not like a shining ray of sun. Then it was only in the last six or seven months that it's become really apparent that we do have something that has a lot of traction.
Felix: Yeah. I definitely want to talk about that in a second so before we get there. Where did the first sales come from? Once you had that product that was ready to go out for sale, where were you getting the customers to come in and check out the product, to begin with?
Danielle: It was all friends. I'm so grateful for our friends who supported us through all of this. It's just been pretty amazing. They all rallied together and bought us out of all of our inventory. Our first batch of soap, our most popular soap was called Unicorn Poop. We don't have that anymore but we did and it sold out in two hours after we put it on the website. So, it was pretty amazing. We only had 30 bars though. We started incredibly small and it was really entirely our friends who ended up buying it.
Felix: So, when you're going through this phase where things weren't progressing as quickly as you would like, what you telling yourself, or what were you telling each other to stick it out? Especially, five years is a long time where you're constantly questioning yourself. How did you answer those questions?
Danielle: I think there was probably 50% just stubbornness and 50% insanity. It really was just sometimes just waking up in the morning and plotting along through it. I actually wrote a blog post in the early days that said, "There's no difference between flying and falling until the end." Because I was so not sure whether we were doing the right thing. I look back on that and I'm like, "Oh, my gosh. I wish I could just pat myself on the head and say, look, it's going to be okay."
Danielle: That's when I have my dark days now, I think, "Okay if I was to tell myself three years ago, what was happening today, I would not believe our good fortune." So even today's bad day is better than our goods days just three years ago. I try to remember to tell myself now, in three years, today's good days are going to be the worst day in three years. It's all keeping a perspective and trying to just be stubborn. Just be stubborn.
Felix: Yeah. So going along that. You said that if you were to go back three years ago, you could comfort yourself and say, "Hey, things are going to get better." Would you be able to point yourself to you today going back to you three years ago? Would you be able to point yourself to any signs? That you say, "Hey, look, see here is evidence, here are the seedlings that are going to lead to more success." Three years later or further down the road?
Danielle: Yeah. I think one of the things that people kept repeating over and over again. In my business, I have a business coach now and she said, "How many times do people have to tell this before you actually hear it?" The thing that they kept repeating was, "I'm so glad I found you. Now that I know you exist, I'm never using anything else." That, when you think about a stranger saying that about your product, that's really gold. Talking to those people, the thing that I really learned was that our customers will always have great advice for us. They'll just tell us what they want.
Danielle: So the more we listen to our customers saying things like, "Now that I know you exist, I'm never using anything else." That is a real business validation. I wish I had listened to that with my heart a little bit more in the early days. It was hard.
Felix: Yeah. That's definitely important because you're talking about celebrating these small wins that will fuel you to keep going.
Felix: How do you look at it differently today? I think it's also, talking about gratitude, right? Just being grateful about how far you've come. Even if you don't believe in the power of gratitude or anything like that, it's just to give yourself fuel just to stick in the game. Stay around longer so you can survive the down days, the down years, down months to last for the upswings, like you are in now.
Felix: Nowadays, how do you try to take it more to heart, these small wins? Especially, the messages that are coming from your customers.
Danielle: Well, if you think about it, the customers are really telling you what you need to do, or telling us what we needed to do. We needed to get more exposure. The key words there were, now that I've found you. They couldn't find us. Nobody could find us. So, now, we really regard our problem, our business problem as one of, people just don't know that we exist, to be dedicated to us forever. That's a really interesting problem because it's an incredibly solvable problem. There are unlimited numbers of ways to get exposure, including being on this podcast, including search engine shop optimization, Facebook ads, referral affiliate programs, that kind of thing. There are so many ways to get exposure.
Danielle: The problem of obscurity was really what our customers were telling us we had. They just didn't know about us. That's so solvable. When I think about our problems now and I think about what we need to solve something that our customers say a lot now is, "I wish that shipping wasn't so expensive and you're out of stock of everything I want." These are great problems to have but they're still problems. We're working on solving those. We've learned that our customers really tell us what direction we need to look to build the business.
Felix: That's a great point. When you first told me that the feedback that your customers give you. I didn't read between the lines either about what was it that they were saying. It's really important now that you bring that up. It's not just empty platitudes where's someone's saying, "Oh, great company, great products, whatever." What's their intention beyond what they're saying? Maybe not directly or purposefully, what's their intention? What are they feeling? What are they signaling to you by saying these things? Even though it might sound like a compliment, there are opportunities in these messages that they're giving you. These almost gaps in your business that you can fill, it takes it to the next level. So, start talking about that.
Felix: You mentioned to us that you were going at it about 20%, 30% growth every year. Let's start there because that's not a bad place to be, right? Maybe over a long period of time, you feel like you're not growing but what got you to at least get to that clip of 20%, 30% growth? What was happening? What were you doing to maintain that kind of growth?
Danielle: I am incredibly aggressive with search engine optimization. It was one of the things that I really worked on when I was at the Oprah Winfrey Network. It has been a passion of mine, a dorky, geeky passion of mine for my... as long as the whole concept existed. I was just obsessed with how to make algorithms decide to feature us over other people.
Danielle: The initial, really it still is one of our biggest drivers of business is search engine referrals. Blogging regularly, being really diligent about, we have a weekly newsletter. A lot of people think, "A weekly, I don't want to spam people." It's not spam if your content's so interesting that people actually read your emails. That's I think something that people forget is, that if you're being interesting, you're making content, you're not advertising. That's something that we've really been very, very delighted to do in blogs and in email newsletters is just really keep it really transparent.
Danielle: We call ourselves the most democratic soap company because we solicit regularly, feedback from our customers and we let them know what's going on. Our newsletter this week is going to talk about how our website slipped schedule because we could not ensure that it was going to look right when we launched it. My rule for us as a business is no artificial deadlines. I don't want to make a deadline just for the sake of having a deadline because we don't have people we're trying to impress.
Danielle: Being transparent about our business decisions in terms of not making artificial deadlines and why our loyalty program is a week behind schedule and stuff like that. I think helps us really build a relationship and helps us have a really cool interaction with our customers. We make a deeper relationship with them because we're so honest about our shortcomings.
Felix: Yeah, definitely. I really want to talk a little more about your pros and content. So, first of all, you mentioned that you're very transparent about your business decisions and you create content around these business decisions, business failings. These aren't topics about soap, you're not talking about your products at all. Right? In these content pieces, right?
Danielle: Many times we are. For example, we had a shaving soap that we were so excited to launch. We were going to launch it right before Father's Day, like Indiana Jones sliding in under a closing stone door. Soap requires 30 days to cure and it came off the racks and it just didn't smell as strong as we know our customers expect it to. So, I had to write a blog post that was very... I hope it had the appropriate regret sound to it. It was, "I'm so sorry. We have been so excited to launch shaving soap and we know you've been really excited to get it. It doesn't meet our quality criteria. So, we're sorry, we can't sell it you."
Danielle: That's an example of a product-oriented blog post that is really about our struggle as a small business. That's something people were like, "Well, why don't just sell it anyway." I was like, "I just don't know if I can. People are buying our stuff above other people’s stuff because of the scents and if it doesn't smell the way we expect it to smell, then I don't want to release something that doesn't meet our standards, our very high standards."
Danielle: There's launch paralysis and then there's making sure that you meet your customers’ needs for quality. I think that it's a very fine line. You know?
Felix: Yeah. I think in that situation, there are companies out there that they'll just release a product anyway or find some way to hide the failing. But you are obviously very transparent about it. Can it hurt? Did you ever think of a situation where transparency can hurt or do you always, always recommend leaning heavily on the side of transparency over anything else?
Danielle: I think that's there's a very important distinction between sharing personal failings and questions and hesitations and going in to the whole woe is me situation. There are some business owners I see, especially small business owners, they think it's all about them and their struggle. It really isn't. It's all about the customer and it's all about the customers’ experience of your business. For example, people were looking forward to that shaving soap. So, this wasn't about our failing. This is about our customers not being able to get that and our efforts to make a higher quality product for them to meet their needs. It's really all about them.
Danielle: Just like the website launch. This isn't about us not having a website, this is about our customers and meeting our customers’ needs. It really is all about them and not us. Even though, on some level, it does seem like it's about us and our business. That's something I see some small business owners forgetting, is that the most important thing is really, to address what the customer cares about. That's really all they care to read about is what they care about. Does that make sense?
Felix: Yeah, it does. I think you're basically saying, you can't just be transparent for the sake of transparency-
Felix: ... if the content is not actually useful or valuable to the most important people, which are your customers. I think that that makes sense.
Felix: Now, I think, it sounds like you're creating a lot of content. How much are we talking about? How much content were you producing at the time? How much are you producing these days for the website?
Danielle: Well, I ran a little experiment. I'm a big fan of data-driven decisions and experiments. Last year at the end of July, I hadn't blogged in a while and I decided to start blogging a couple of times a week, hopefully, every day but at least a couple times a week. I watched our Google search console and our search console numbers climbed steadily from July 31st was the date. I can point it out and anybody could look at it on a graph and say, "Oh, wow, something changed that day." The thing that changed was that I started blogging several times a week.
Danielle: I just look at the data and I see what's causing a measurable difference in whether people are finding our site through search, whether people are finding our site through marketing referrals. I'll talk a little bit in a minute about the Facebook ads thing because that was really an interesting revelation. But it's all data-driven decisions and what blog posts are people responding to.
Felix: This approach of SEO and then content marketing, you're saying, running these blog posts. The results take a while though, especially if you're new.
Felix: Right? It takes a while to show up. I think if you are, not necessarily impatient, but if you are just nervous, right? About whether you're succeeding, whether you're going down the right path or not. I can see someone taking a few steps down this path and all of a sudden changing paths, changing paths, over and over again because they didn't give it enough time to see it work. I guess, how do you address that if you're someone... obviously, you have experience here. How do you address that if you're someone that's new, how should you think about how to approach SEO and content marketing differently so that you have the right perspective when you're looking for results?
Danielle: The most important thing that Google is looking for is a relevant site. The site relevance is determined in a large part to how often the site is updated. When your blog post updates your homepage, Google says, "Oh, I should really index this site a lot more often." As a result, your site goes up in rankings. Not just for that one particular thing but overall authority. As your pages interlink and there are keywords that are linked to other sections of your site, pardon me. The other keywords are linked to other sections of your site, Google creates a story about your website that's bigger than just that one page or that one blog post.
Danielle: That story about your website comes with authority and it comes with an ability to be unseated in the search results. For example, a competitive soap company to us came out with a soap that was campfire soap. We already had dominated the search results for campfire soap and so because we have all these blog posts going back for six years about campfire soap and the importance of why we created campfire soap and linking to the consistent page for campfire soap. It's very difficult to unseat us in that first position even though they're a bigger company with more traffic and stuff because we'd just been talking about campfire soap for six years.
Danielle: So the consistency over that amount of time allows Google or Bing or any of the search engines, really, but let's just be honest, we're talking about Google to build the story. In that way, when you think about will this cause immediate effects? No, because the reason is because of how search engines build that story. So you think about it in terms of writing a book, not an article. You know what I mean?
Felix: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That makes sense. I think it's something that I've spoken about recently too, which is around the importance of having a back catalog-
Felix: ... because that's the only way people can become super fans getting emersed into your authority. Even if you have an article that's ranking at the very top and they come to your page and you have only one article, that's not enough for someone to be like, "I trust this person." Because there's no other content. Right? You don't have enough content for them to consume on similar topics, other topic, enough for them to-
Felix: ... because if they get exposure to you for the first time, that's the time when they're probably going to be most interest in finding out more about what you're about. You want to give them the opportunity to do that by producing more content, by producing back catalogs, by linking to other content pieces that you have. They don't have the opportunity to become emersed into your world of authority. I think that what you're saying makes a lot of sense from search engine perspective but when actually a user comes to your site, an actual, potential customer, you want that authority too, by having a lot of content. So yeah, I think that-
Danielle: That's actually, in a recent customer survey. We're very customer focused as I'm sure you've picked up on. In a recent customer survey, we asked people why they decided to buy Outlaw Soaps? Whey they felt like we were the company for them? The first two were about our scents and how our scents are really high quality and unique and then also they can't find us anywhere else. The third reason, which I found was very interesting, was because they liked us as a company.
Danielle: That is a direct result of how much I write about our company in our blog. That was really cool to hear that they felt that we were a good company because of all the things that they've read about us. That's exactly what you're talking is that back content catalog of substantiating evidence that we're a solid company that they can trust. That's something that you cannot build overnight and it can't be done in a matter of days or weeks. It has to be done over the years.
Felix: ... makes sense, yeah. Let's say, people out there listening, they've bought into this idea, they're ready to write a lot of content. The next thing they might be thinking about is, "I don't know what to talk about. I don't know what to write about. I don't have any ideas." What's your process to come up with ideas to create content for?
Danielle: I've gone to a bunch of classes and seminars and watched a bunch of video and stuff like that. There's a ton of videos out there about how to do stuff. I really go to Google Trends. I think about, "Okay, what do I want my most popular product to be?" For example, solid cologne is something that right now, I'm trying to really optimize. So, I've been going to Google Trends, seeing what people search for. Do they search for dry cologne? Do they search for solid cologne? Do they search for travel cologne? And also, going to Google, typing in solid cologne and seeing what else comes up in the recommended search.
Danielle: For example, I typed in solid cologne, one of the things that came up was solid cologne reviews. So, I wrote a blog post called, Best Solid Cologne Reviews, where I highlighted my favorite of our customer reviews. That is a super easy thing to do because you don't even have to write that content. All you have to do is let the customers speak for you. That's super great because it kills two birds with one stone, you're highlighting stuff and you're getting great search engine optimization.
Danielle: And then also, if you do a search for example for solid cologne and you go to the very bottom of the page, you can see other recommended search terms and the best thing to do is just grab those and create blog posts around them. I always have a bunch of running drafts in my blog on Shopify with ideas, with other search terms that's I've come up with that maybe, could be a good direction to go.
Danielle: For example, I just posted one called, Solid Cologne Versus Liquid Cologne because I saw that at the bottom of those search results. I thought, "Okay, I can write a blog post about that." So I wrote a blog post about the difference between the two, what the benefits are, what the drawbacks are. Somebody posted a comment and said, "This is the best post I've read in a long time." That was a really great thing to hear. Also, I was totally not inspired to write that post, it was entirely inspired by just Google.
Felix: Okay. Another thing of yours is just taking this very data-driven approach to decide what kind of content to create. I think other people can do the same thing where they come up with these ideas. I think the next potential challenge is now about publishing, right? I think there are probably lots of people out there listening that might have 10s of drafts of blogs that have never been published. They can't get to the point where they feel like they can finish it and publishing one. Do you have that challenge today or in the past? How do you overcome this fear of finishing a blog post?
Danielle: Well, I'm actually a writer so I come to this with a bit of additional skill.
Danielle: One of the reasons that I was very confident in starting this business is because I knew I could write my way through practically anything and if there's one skill that I have, it's being about to be a very strong writer. I used to be the editor of my school newspaper. I've written tons of posts and articles for GoDaddy. I just love writing. So, there is one thing that, I don't know if you can really learn it. If you don't like writing, you could perhaps hire somebody to do it for you. There's a ton of people out there on Upwork who will write content for you.
Danielle: Really, just kick it out there. Make sure that your spelling is right. I heard Grammarly is a great application that helps people get their grammar to publishable quality. Just get it out there. If you're doing for search engine optimization, the blog post does not have to be very long, it just has to have a title and some words that substantiate the fact that that is not just a spam post. Even if you have shaving soap as your title. Shaving soap is coming soon, I promise. Here's a photo of it. Thanks for your support. That could be a blog post. It doesn't have to be very, very long. It just has to content. It just has to update your homepage and it just has to update your blog page. Sometimes short is totally fine. It doesn't have to be very long.
Felix: Makes sense. So, is this still your approach today, this kind of aggressive content creation for purposes of SEO? Or, is there a new path for you guys to focus on to grow the business?
Danielle: Yeah. The biggest revelation for this year, which resulted in a 600% growth, which is why I wrote to you in the first place, is because of Facebook ads. I shifted my thinking around Facebook ads and advertising in general and cost per acquisition in general. I got an app on Shopify called Better Reports and through Better Reports I was able to pull our lifetime customer value. I realized that our lifetime customer value is much higher than I thought it was. It was actually around $70.
Danielle: I had been looking at the Facebook advertising that we had done in the past and I'd been seeing a cost per acquisition of $12.50 on sometimes an $8 bar of soap. It doesn't take a mathematician to go, "That doesn't work out." So, I had thought this wasn't working but then when I looked at Better Reports and our lifetime customer value, I realized that even if I was losing money on one sale, if I was making $70 on average for every new customer I got, that Facebook was printing money for me. It was like a broken Coinstar machine. All I had to do was push bulldozers of money into it and as long as I got a pretty huge return on investment, our margins could cover that initial loss for the most part. Then the lifetime customer value of our incredible strong repeat customer rate would sustain us. That has been absolutely a total game-changer for us.
Danielle: If I could say one thing to your Shopify Masters listeners, it is, think of the bigger picture. Don't get bogged down in the minutia and in the small individual sales. Look at the sales over the longer period of time. Really think about that customer in terms of a relationship that you're creating. And again, thinking back to those customers who said in those early days, "Wow, now that I've found you. I didn't know that you existed." Thinking about how we can get that lifetime customer value to work for us and to build those relationships even if it means an initial loss on that first sale. That's really where it's-
Felix: So your Faacebook ads were always working, but you didn't know that they were working. I think it's a very common fear that were you are not making a profit. Not making money on day one of getting an ad, putting an ad up, someone coming to your site, it's costing you more money on day one to acquire them then you are making money on their purchase. You're basically saying that it's much greater than that. It's $70 over their lifetime. What's happening that they are coming back and just repeat purchasing from you just because, it is the product itself or are there ways that you've set up systems to encourage repeat buyers?
Danielle: Yeah. I stand by our product. Our product, as far as I'm concerned of course, the greatest on the market, otherwise, I wouldn't be doing it. I do know that our product is so unique that if people want it, they can go nowhere else for it. Basically, we're the only place. Outlaw Soaps is the only company that makes products like we have. So we found a very powerful niche and it's one that there just isn't a lot of competition in it. If you want handmade soap that smells like campfire like we make, you can't get it anywhere else. So there's that and that actually does drive a lot of repeat purchases.
Danielle: The other thing is building that relationship. Having a strong newsletter. Creating that blog that has all that extra information. Then recently, as results of a bunch of people, like I said, you just have to listen to people and they'll tell you. A lot of people said that they wished they knew more about our company and about what happens when they order a product. I thought at the time, that it was probably the worst thing ever. Now, in retrospect, I think, "Oh, my gosh. That may have been the best thing ever." When Mailchimp and Shopify had their great divorce, which I know affected a lot of people. We went to Klaviyo. Klaviyo has a lot of robust email marketing flows and conditional marketing and everything.
Danielle: We started using this welcome email sequence. This welcome email sequence right away starts, "Hey, thanks. This is your first order. We're so glad to have you in the gang, et cetera, et cetera." The second one talks about why we started the company. The third one talks about the inspiration for our scents. The fourth one talks about the people who work here and the people who make the products and how they all make above-average wages for the area. We really think it's important to ethically treat employees so that people are happy and so that the products have happiness infused into them wherever they go.
Danielle: I know that that's an unconventional method of communication with a bunch of customers but it's something that we feel very strongly about. Then we say, "Hopefully, your product has been delivered, but in case it hasn't, here's a little bit more about our fulfillment process." Stuff like that. So, when people place their first order, they immediately start learning more about our company. We've received so much feedback about that initial email sequence about how that really helps people get a better understanding of us as a company.
Danielle: Then other things for example. We started offering a solid cologne sample set because one of the comment customer requests was, "I wish you had samples. I would be more willing to spend $25 on a tin of solid cologne if I could try it first." So we offer a sample set. We don't make a ton of money on that sample set, but 15 days after they get their order received, they get an email that says, "Hey, want to place an order for full size one?" So, we're able to build on those initial purchases using this email flow. They don't go into a black hole, they become part of our gang and that's one of the things that we really do well, I think.
Felix: Right. So you're basically, by building a relationship with the customer is what turns them into a repeat buyer for you.
Felix: You mentioned a couple of times before about how you're not coming up with these ideas in your own head. You're just trying to be a good detective and listing for what your customers are telling you. I would say, there's probably some advice that's better than others from a customer. How do you filter what kind of advice to take versus what might be, not discarded necessarily, but at least deprioritized?
Danielle: Well, one of the things that we really want to do is make stuff that's not like anything else out there. So, if there's something that people are requesting that is like other things out there, we direct them to the other thing. We don't say, "Oh, no, that's not for us." We say, "You might be interested in this." In that way, we're actually acting as friend. We just recently hired a customer satisfaction manager and one of the things that I told him was, "We want to be like their friend. As soon as they interact with us, we're their good friend." If they need something that we don't have we will send them to a resource to get it. So yeah. We do get a lot of advice that is, "I wish you would make a menthol soap." And we say, "Oh, that's interesting. That already exists. Here's a link to that."
Danielle: Thinking about how can we help out other small businesses. Not only that but how can we actually help people find what they're looking for and have a full life. What we really want to do is support them in having a full life. Yeah. There are ideas that people come up with that are... some of our scents include gun powder and there are some people who are like, "Oh, yeah. You should market." I don't know Felix if we should exclude this from the podcast but we do get a lot of recommendations on partnering with political organizations and stuff and that doesn't feel right to us.
Danielle: We are a very diverse group of people and we have a lot of diverse political opinions. So, we as a company have made the decision that we're not going to take any stand on politics. That we're not going to take any stand on any of the political issues that are going on right now because of how diverse our customer base is and our employee base is. We fell like, "Well, we make soap. We make soap and we make personal care products and neither of these things are political."
Felix: Yeah. We definitely want to keep that in the podcast because I think it's important-
Felix: ... for people to understand that marketing shouldn't just be at the expense of nothing. Right? There are costs to how far you're willing to go with your marketing.
Felix: Which is perfectly fine for people to weigh and balance themselves but basically, what you're getting at is that there are certain values that you have and certain principles that you might have or certain beliefs that you might have. Who knows, you might be able to generate more revenue by going down a certain path but if that's not inline with the mission of your company or your beliefs then it doesn't make sense to do.
Danielle: Exactly. As one additional note on that. We strive to be incredibly inclusive. We want to use inclusive language and inclusive practices wherever possible, not just as business decisions but because that's who we are as a company and as individuals. Whenever anybody asks us to make any kind of exclusive language, we try to use gender-neutral language whenever we can because we believe that even though some people consider our products male-focused, I use them and I'm not a guy. I think that using inclusive language is very important to us as a company no matter what kind of pressure people and our customers put on us as a company. There are lines in the sand that we have to draw.
Felix: Got it. So let's talk about the Facebook ad strategy. You mentioned a 600% growth and that was just because... it was already working, you just had to give it more time for the results, the rewards to play out. What was the strategy to begin with? How do you set up your Facebook ads today to maybe not make your money on the front end but then clearly make your money back and much more on the backend?
Danielle: Well, there were two things that shifted in the new year. One of them was that I decided to look at our lifetime customer value as I mentioned. The other one is really just a stroke of good fortune. We are the luckiest company ever, I think. Somebody sent us some, her name is Erica, she sent us some incredible product photos that she had taken with her friend. She just gave them to us. I thought, "Oh, these are cool. I'm going to put these in an ad." Oh, my gosh. That ad took off. It was amazing. I just started playing with the text the ad. We still run those ads to this day with that same image.
Danielle: The image, it changed how I saw our company. It was so good, it was so evocative, it was so ethereal but also sexy and practical. It was so amazing. It's just a picture of a guy with our cologne and his chin. It's not like rocket science. It was really just a dang good photo. That shifted our business to the extent that actually gave her equity in the company because she changed how much I thought about things.
Danielle: It was that. It was seeing how the lifetime customer value could affect my version of cost per acquisition. I'm looking at it as a drop in a longer relationship. Then also, this amazing photo that then, of course, I invested in more photography. Like I say, "We get better at getting better." Not just, we learn one lesson and then we go, "Oh, that lesson works." And then we hand it off.
Danielle: Today, how our strategy has changed since January is I actually hired an agency. Once I realized the lifetime customer value was so powerful, I decided this is too important for me to be screwing around with. This is not where I want my time to be spent. I want to spend my time thinking about a bigger business strategy, whether we're maintaining enough inventory to meet the demand that is being caused by this advertising. I just handed it off. Not entirely because I love working on the words because of the writer thing, but I send a Dropbox of pictures to the agency that I'm working with, Sarah Best Strategy. She does all the rest, she does all the rest. That's really what we changed was a good photo and working with an agency.
Felix: Yeah. So let's talk about the photos because it sounds like you tried to reverse engineer to figure out why this would work so well.
Felix: What are the benefits? What have you found? What have you discovered that others can take away from this if they are struggling with the images that they have for their Facebook ads?
Danielle: I'm so shy, so I really hate taking photos and including photos of other people. The real groundbreaking thing was that this included a picture of a person. That sounds so obvious and so basic in retrospect, but at the time, it was absolutely like inventing the wheel. I couldn't even believe a human in a photo? What? I look back on it and I'm like, "Oh, gosh. How stupid can I be." At the same time, that was a real groundbreaking thing, is that people like seeing pictures of people using the products. That has consistently performed. Whenever I have the opportunity to hire a professional photographer who works with a model, I take that opportunity.
Danielle: Even stock photos. I was, "Maybe it doesn't even matter if we have the product in the photo. Let's test that." So, I downloaded some stock photos. The stock photos consistently performed at least as well as the other photos. So, we just started using stock photos. Those are so much easier and cheaper than hiring a professional photographer, so why not? If these kinds of massive tests, the agency that I work with. She makes hundreds of copies of our ads for every single ad cycle. She does our ads every two weeks and there are 100 variations that she tests in terms of audience, in terms of photos, in terms of text. She's just always testing stuff. It's so nice to not have to have the bandwidth of testing these things. But yeah, it's people. If you include people in the photos, that's so much better.
Felix: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. outlawsoaps.com. O-U-T-L-A-W-S-O-A-P-S.com is the website. I'll leave you this one last question. What do you think will be your biggest challenge this year?
Danielle: Easy. That's an easy, easy question. Scale. How do we create enough products to meet the demands? That's what I'm trying to figure out. So, I hope to hear that in a future episode.
Felix: Yeah. Once you figure that out, we'll definitely have you back on. Thank you so much for coming on.
Danielle: All right.
Felix: Danielle and sharing your experience.
Danielle: Thanks Felix. It's been a pleasure.