Arlen: Welcome to the eCommerce marketing podcast. Everyone. I am your host, Arlen Robinson. And today we have a very special guest Stephen, Carl, who is a founder of needle movement, a digital strategy company that helps eCommerce brands nail their marketing. Stephen began his digital career as an early employee at an Amazon-funded start-up in 1998 and has been chasing online conversions ever since.

With Needle Movement, Stephen decided that his true calling was to create the next growth story. To use his digital marketing expertise to help emerging brands avoid expensive mistakes and target the big marketing wins.

Stephen: Thanks so much Arlen. It’s great to be here. 

Arlen: Yeah, no problem. I’m glad to have you. And I’m really excited. I did about our topic of today because it is a hot topic. We’re going to be talking a little bit about conversion, commerce, and how to use email, SMS, and messenger marketing to successfully get leads, drive sales, drive traffic, and all of the above.

And so we’re going to really kind of dig deep into. Some of the strategies that you’re going to be sharing with that. Cause I’m, I’m interested myself to learn more about that, but before we get into all of that, if you don’t mind telling us a little bit more about your background and specifically how you got into what you’re doing today.

Stephen: Awesome. Yeah. Conversational marketing conversation. Commerce is a hot topic. So looking forward to getting into that. So I’ll give you the backstory. We’ll go back to 1998, way back before I think this is right around when Google was launching and. You know, before a lot of the things that are part of digital marketing today.

So I was fortunate just to get involved in to a startup in the early days and a startup that focused on one hour delivery and was like an early employee. They’re like employee number five or something like that. So in New York city, company’s name is and in New York city, we were doing one hour delivery of DVDs, food and drugstore products.

And as an early employee, I was doing everything. I mean, I was literally sleeping on the, in the office floor at night and got to create content, answer customer service calls, and deliver packages. I got to see firsthand. What happens when someone orders something online and eight minutes later, it arrives at the customer’s doorstep.

So sometimes I would deliver these packages come up to someone’s apartment and I saw instant gratification firsthand. I saw the facial expression. You just blow people’s minds with it. So this company expanded from five people to 500 people from New York city to 10 different cities, just delivering that instant gratification package.

No surprise to what we see today from Amazon, that they were interested in investing in this. Company, they ended up putting $60 million into at the time, long story short, like became a victim of bubble where filed to do an IPO. And in April of 2000 market completely crashed.

And some of these leading companies, or, you know, we could call them bleeding, edge companies, new exciting technology, but not fully developed, just didn’t have the runway. To go through a downtrend in the economy, because this was before social media, email marketing, mobile phones. But I think from that first experience, I think when you see a company closed the door, it hurts and you never want to experience that.

So I would have loved the IPO, but I think in my future career, seeing a company not take advantage of its investments, waste a few dollars made me. More adamant about profitability later on in my career. So after Cosmo, I spent a dozen years inside of larger companies and I was that first e-commerce hire my job was to bring the digital culture and show how to do it on the websites and how to start your digital marketing.

In 2010, I worked at a company called Lafayette, one 48, New York. It’s a woman’s luxury women’s wear brand, and they have about $200 million in sales, but you know, got to see. We grew the online sales from $8 million a year in 2010 to over $45 billion a year leading into 2015, you know, and that was just a mix of, it was a good catalog business and we just added some, we added email search, a lot of good digital marketing practices to increase the interaction.

And after that, you know, that gave me the courage to go back to what I was [email protected], working in a smaller startup, starting my own company. And I figured having done this with Lafayette one 48 and other brands, the idea of being able to help multiple companies and kind of working inside of larger companies and bringing some of that insight to emerging brands was attractive.

So needle movement was born. And it’s, we’re going to be hitting our five year anniversary later this year. 

Arlen: And 

Stephen: congrats. Thank you. Thank you. It’s been an interesting journey because I even when you’re on the agency services side, it’s not the same thing your company evolves. And one interesting evolution that has been made over the past couple of years is moving more from digital strategy to conversation commerce.

And as a digital strategist, I. I worked inside of companies for a long time, and I don’t care how you get results, just that you get results. And time and time again, I was going to email and other channels because they were reliable. They were the ones that I knew if we invested this money, that we would make much more back.

So now we are helping clients with email, SMS, and Facebook messenger marketing. 

Arlen: Okay, great. Yeah, that’s awesome. It’s kind of sounds like you’ve been in this game about as long as I have. You mentioned 1998. That’s a, basically our will, but when I got started pretty much laying the groundwork, probably starting reactive.

As you know, we started as a full service web development farm, 

Stephen: and it’s pretty gnarly though, right. Just to see how you get that instinct and these trends, it gets, you know, it’s been really insightful. 

Arlen: It has been. Yeah. And, you know, we both can attest to the fact that we’ve kind of seen the full kind of really the birth of the internet really as to the way we see it right now at the very beginning stages.

Like you said, 98 it’s really when Google was just starting. And so yeah. A lot has changed in really a short amount of time. So yeah, that’s awesome that you’ve been able to be there at the beginning and have been able to do several successful pivots. And, you know, you’ve continually kind of built yourself upon what you’ve learned previously.

Now, you know, it’s interesting that you of course started off mentioning getting into this, starting with email, because as far as messaging and communicating with customers, that’s really kind of where it all begins or began initially as email before there was any other types of messaging live chats and messengers.

Any of that, there was, there was email that was really kind of the heart of it. I recall several years ago and this always kind of pops up every now and then in you, I’m sure you’ve heard it. There’s always this chatter about how, okay. Email is dead. Now we know we’re in the age of the instant messaging and social media, text messaging.

Nobody uses email and you know, it’s dead. So why would you say that this really isn’t the case and why email now is actually more effective than ever? 

Stephen: Yeah, that’s a great question. Well, email is dead. I mean, that conversation point is clickbait right now, right? Because once you say those words, you’re going to inspire a passionate conversation.

And I think, yeah, the death of email has been prognosticated for over 10 years when social media came on and 10 years ago, everyone was saying, Oh, everyone’s going to join Facebook and stop doing email. I think, you know, it might be a uniquely American thing that we want one solution. Like we watch the action movies.

We want that magic bullet to right now, like even with coronavirus, like we want the vaccine, the vaccine is the magic bullet. And I think we see with marketing, you’re working in affiliate marketing and seeing all the benefits there. And we see that there’s so many different paths and a lot of times there’s this, there’s a lot of things that can group it together.

So to go with email, I know personally, just from seeing the dashboards. Of some of these companies, including what needle movement works on, like the past holiday season, even in this first part of 2020, seeing really, really good results and just companies making $30 for every dollar just. It’s the ROI is incredible that you get from email.

I think what happens is there’s a lot of mudslinging in the industry and people will say, well, emails, open rates are not as good as SMS and among other things. And there’s an agenda there a little bit, but it’s, I think most brands and larger brands, especially will always tell you that email works like you and I have a common friend, Dylan Kelly, and I was talking to Dylan.

A couple months ago and he was sharing some of his numbers on his agency. And does we all, we know that email is working and that it’s great for brands because the starting costs are not that expensive and they can really grow into it. I think with email what’s happening now, though, is brands need to get better on email because what happens is sometimes if even a mediocre execution on email, Can mean that they’re not get it, that they can still make a lot of dollars on it, which is deceptive because there’s still money left on the table.

Like I’ve seen things like I once pitched a client, like maybe like three years ago was, and had this pitch deck on saying, talking about abandoned cart and win back campaigns. And I remember I was speaking to the head of marketing and she looked at my deck and she said, Well, we’re already doing all this stuff.

Like the things that you have on your deck sounds great, but this is all covered. Like she had seen it as like a check Mark on her long list of things to do so by some miracle, we got this account. And even though, you know, she had it, her objection that she was open-minded to her credit. And a year later we tripled the revenue on email and there was no magic tricks there.

I think it’s just that even with things like abandoned cart, And these simple campaigns, like there’s so many ways to do it a little bit better over time and to use engagement and that feedback of what a customer is doing. So it’s, so with email, like with doubling down on it, it’s kind of thing, everything out, an email, and even taking a look at your staffing, because I find a lot of times that like the founder is sending an email.

There’s one person in charge of everything on email. And a lot of times like the investments that someone could make so that they could output do more automations. It’s nothing compared to some other costs that the company might have in other parts of marketing. 

Arlen: Yeah, this is so true. And I think it’s these days, as far as email is concerned, we’re at a unique point in, I guess you could say in the, kind of the history of the internet, where.

At least the barrier of entry to being able to create these types of email campaigns, being able to touch your customers via email on a schedule that’s automated, where you don’t have to, you know, hands on, you know, it’s a lot easier these days. It’s so much lower these days because I do recall the early days we’re talking the late, late nineties, early two thousands that easy, you know, in order to do an email mailing the system.

There were some players in this space, but you know, these were big bulky systems. They had to live on servers. There wasn’t too many sass companies out there at the time. And there was a lot that had to go into it. And not only did you have to have the platform, you also had to have a developer that could design these emails, you know, graphic designer.

You had to have somebody that could kind of put all of this together, that Coby HTML, but it was a process. So I think we’re at the point right now where. Businesses that want to just get an email campaign. It’s just a matter of finding up, you know, and these days there’s so many options and you have the MailChimps that offer the free plans.

There’s so many other companies that offer these initial free plans, just to jump in there. They have professionally designed templates and you know, can really get you going there. So I think we’re definitely at this kind of point where it’s a lot easier to get there. So that initial barrier to entry, at least getting to the point where you’ve got these.

Emails created you’ve maybe you’ve created a brief funnel where you’re going to send out maybe five different emails to people that joined your list, or for people that are on your prospect list. That part is pretty easy to do. I think what now, where we’re at is everybody is all the reason through that first part of it.

We’re all now landing at the phase where I. These want me to put this stuff together? How do I effectively build my list? I think that’s where people are really wondering. Okay. I’m trying to get a list where I know I’ve got some good prospects that I can size over a period of time and educate them and get them to trust me.

And then of course get them to buy me. So, in your experience, from what you’ve done, what are some actual tips on building your email list and just growing that over 

Stephen: time? Yeah. Email list growth is definitely important because. The more people that you’re able to send to the more people that are interested in your products, the higher the revenue is going to come from these campaigns.

I think it’s a psychological problem with Lewis growth. Cause I’m kind of on a mission to make the term list growth, sexy like acquisition. You say the word acquisition in front of a VC firm or in front of a certain executives. Eyes will spin with money fingers, but list growth is very similar because.

Acquisition is just the end of the funnel. That’s when someone buys, but list growth is the middle of the funnel where they’re getting more interested. So they sign up, they’re giving their personal information away. They gotta have somewhat Wintrust. I think, you know, a huge part of the battle is it goes back to even how your team is structured.

And if you can have someone on your team that owns list growth. That they monitor how many new subscribers you get and their job is to, or portion of their roles is to increase the list growth. Then you’re going to have a focus on it because this growth is daily thing. It’s not a home run. So I think a lot of times I get scary questions about, should I buy this email?

And I’m like, no, no, don’t do that. So with let’s go with your best. People are the ones that will come to the website cause they’re coming because they’re interested in the product. So now the most popular tactic is popups too. And I think with popups, a lot of times, it’s you just test the approach. You know, some people want an offer.

A lot of times it’s just using good copywriting to speak directly in the voice that, that you’re speaking like a friend and you’re like, Hey, sign up. Instead of something more robotic. 

Arlen: That is very true. A lot of times I think companies are just so quick to be robotic with it, offer just some type of promo, things like that.

And yeah, those are good. Of course. So to kind of pull people in, everybody wants a discount. Everybody wants to save money. That’s that kind of goes without saying, but I think he kind of nailed it there. You want to be able to speak to these customers, these prospects in a way that like you’re talking to a friend, they feel comfortable.

Giving you their information because you know, the bottom line is if I have several email accounts and if you know, my different email accounts that I have is any video word, like anybody else’s, it’s filled with a lot of, a lot of stuff. A lot of newsletters, a lot of stuff that I need and a lot of stuff eventually over time I have to sort through.

So I think these days, people are at the point where they’re a little slower to maybe leave their email, depending just because there will certainly want to be inundated. But if you’re able to kind of speak to them, like you said, like a friend where they can trust you and they understand what it is that you’re going to provide to them, that’s going to be a value.

Whether you’re going to be giving them maybe a series of emails that. Are educational that are around your particular product or your particular niche and on that are not necessarily all just salesy where it’s just buy my product, buy, buy, buy, then I think people will trust you. Yeah, 

Stephen: like a lot of people just use like product drops, I think are a really good way to get people love newness.

So if you can get them into the club early, They liked that idea, but it’s, I think with List-Grow that’s, if you can take that daily perspective on it, which is how many signups do I have this week? Just increasing that. Let’s just say you’re getting five signups a day and you can boost that to 15 a day.

Those numbers over time are really going to add up. 

Arlen: Oh, that is so true. I’m glad you mentioned earlier that. If you have a dedicated person that, you know, maybe there’s not, of course all that they do, but that’s one of their tasks is list growth. And for them to hatch, we focused on looking at that daily, know what are the tweaks that they can do to increase that daily sign up rate.

And then also on the other end, also looking at people that are unsubscribing and are you getting a, an influx of people just opting out what can you do to clog those holes? So, yeah, that’s very important. And, you know, as far as email is concerned and we’ve of course touched on this earlier, but nowadays of course, there’s more than just email, you know, of course there’s huge explosion of messaging.

Now you have Facebook messenger, you have SMS. Yeah. The popup notifications that are the browser pop up notifications. Push pages, all of that. There’s always all these different ways to communicate with your customers. So how does the brand really combine all of these different channels to create an effective marketing campaign where it’s not just, they’re not just blasting out all of these different messages across these different platforms and overwhelming their customers.

Stephen: guess, with messaging, it’s really just with conversational marketing. I consider email the first channel, cause everybody’s on it and. The nice thing is that you can take a lot of that wisdom that you’ve already gleaned from your email performance and start thinking about what’s the next channel to go into.

So right now, SMS has really emerged just because with text messaging, a lot of people, you know, on your phone, it’s a very intimate channel and you have no inbox that you have to deal with. Right. You get that message through, like we know with email and the promotional tab, there are a lot of things I’ve signed up to that I haven’t looked at in months because it’s not right in front of me.

So I think with SMS, the challenge is that that is a very intimate channel and people will hate you if you blast things every day to them. So getting into a more cohesive campaign is you’re on email. Now, start thinking about where the next opportunities are. And going from one channel to two channels.

And then, you know, you go from two to three and, and so on. And I think with conversation marketing, a reason why it’s hot is because we’re just at the beginning of this. And just because when you can, it’s just the back and forth of conversations. We can both get our questions answered. We get feedback from the customer.

The customer gets to figure out if that product is going to match. Their needs. So the loop is much quicker because it’s two way. So a lot of brands go into or going into SMS, we’re just beginning to explore it. And that is, it’s not a bad way to go because the starting costs aren’t that high. I mean, you just end up paying per message.

It’s like, there’s something called SMS and there’s MMS. MMS is basically a graphic, but it costs somewhere between two and 7 cents a 

Arlen: message. That’s very low and it’s so it just definitely sounds like to pivot from email and then add on these other platforms. Yeah, it does definitely sounds like it’s doable for.

Most brands at least to kind of get started with it. And like you said, you don’t have to go to all of these channels at once at a couple of the other ones, maybe the Facebook messaging, see how that goes. And I think one of the main things with this is it, it opens up an opportunity for more communication because there’s everyone likes to communicate a certain way.

Some people’s preference is communicating via Facebook messenger. Then you have some people. Who are straight SMS texting, you know, they love they’d live and die by that, but then you have maybe some people that are have an older demographic. They don’t do any of that. They’re just on eBay. They don’t have Navy.

They don’t even have a cell phone. I mean, they’ll, maybe don’t even have a smartphone, rather. They have a flip phone, you know, I don’t know how many people we have that these days, but I’m sure there are some out there that don’t have a smartphone and, you know, they’re just on emails. So you have to reach them via email.

I think by adding these other additional channels, you’re opening yourself up to a larger audience for sure, because you know that people have their preferences and it’s just a great way to open up the dialogue to a, you know, kind of a larger group of people. Which is always fit to do, you know, as we get ready to wrap things up, my listeners always know final question.

I usually always try to figure out what are some of the large companies doing these large brands that have. Solid and effective in your case, or in this case email, they have a solid email, SMS and Facebook messaging campaigns down, or who are some of these large brands that really kind of have solid campaigns that we can all learn from?

What are they doing to achieve success? 

Stephen: I think. When you’re putting together multiple conversation channels. And you’re saying, when do I send emails? When I was on SMS? When do I do messenger? There’s a couple things. I mean, I think first off, but a lot of larger brands are doing right now, or what you typically do around the third quarter of the year is that’s.

When you start trying to build up your list and then prepare for the holiday season. Because SMS and messenger are not as you don’t send them as much as email because it’s more intimate. They want more higher quality content. But you know, a quick example with campaigns is that for abandoned cart, what a lot of brands do is you don’t send the same message at the same time.

So if you have a message, don’t send it the same thing. And actually my dentist just made this mistake. I got an SMS and an email message, the exact same. About 15 minutes ago, 

Arlen: it was exact same content, 

Stephen: exact same thing. But you, what you could do is you send the SMS first and if it converts, then they don’t get the email.

Right. So that way they’re not seeing a message they don’t want. So one of the, to answer your question about brands that are doing a great, I think some of these are just, maybe we can put it if we get it in the show notes, just, I love seeing competition and what people that do it right. So a lot of these are just it’s good content plus using the marketing.

So a big example for messenger would be Ben and Jerry’s like Ben and Jerry’s did a mess. They do a, so they have to launch a lot of new flavors. And when they launch new flavors, they do a messenger campaign who announced it, and then they give people the opportunity to get free samples of that new flavor.

So when I have a product launch, They’re just reaching out and giving people an opportunity to get that new product. I 

Arlen: can definitely see how just by offering that, I’m thinking about, man, I need to, I need to go ahead and add myself to their get made. Cause I do love Ben and Jerry’s and kind of be able to be on the pulse of some new flavors.

That’s a tasting in and of itself just to get on their distribution list there. 

Stephen: So let’s see, let’s get Legos as another example. They have a gift bot on messenger and that’s for think about Legos and like how many different you might want Legos, but Lego Batman is different than Lego star Wars. So they have a questionnaire.

It’s a conversation that goes where someone can fine tune the Legos that they want to get. So that’s another example of how you can use that two way conversation to fine tune. What does this person actually want? Because a lot of times what brands, you have a lot of different types of products, they’re just cause they’re coming to the website and sometimes they don’t know the particulars of, of it.

And with you can also use keywords that if someone enters them in can trigger a certain pages or certain products, and that’s another advantage, but you know, a couple more examples that I would give is Brooklinen. Which is a bedding sheets company. Their SMS is like, you know, they have some nice campaigns with it.

I think a misnomer about conversation marketing or even the term chatbots. Is that again, it’s robotic or boring. A lot of these campaigns, like within an SMS campaign, what they typically do is. It’s really MMS. They put a graphic on top. A lot of times it’s like a Giphy. It’s like a fun little picture.

Like what are those meme type of pictures we’ve seen to inject personality to it. And then they put the announcement on what’s new, but know another one going along those lines would be beard brand, which is a, uh, so I think they were on shark tank many, many years ago, and that’s a great brand to follow because they really understand their audience and they make it entertaining.

Also like on their email, they don’t have an offer. The offer is really just to join the community and to get, receive good content and find out first about product. They found a really ingenious way to use a quiz as a list growth method. But I really liked the content because it’s very simple content that I have on their email.

And they’re also on SMS. It’s not an elaborate email, but they get their point across very quickly. 

Arlen: Okay, great. Those are some great examples and I appreciate you sharing and what I would always recommend. And I always tell people that that’s why a lot of times, I always like to look at what the big players in the space are doing because the bottom line is all of these brands, all the ones that you mentioned are pretty large brands, you know, specifically like a Ben and Jerry’s and a Legos.

You know, they spend millions and millions of dollars on marketing and all of the decisions that they make. So they don’t put anything out there unless. They gone through the research and have done the metrics on what works and what doesn’t. So you can definitely learn a lot from them. So I just recommend people to take a look, get onto their messaging campaigns, you know, join their email list, get into their Facebook messaging group a list, add yourself, see what they’re sending out.

And you know, I’m not saying that you need to clone everything exactly how they’re doing it, but you can definitely take a look, see what they’re doing. Make things your own and, um, see. Where you can kind of take some of the things that they’re doing and, you know, make it more applicable to your particular brands.

So, yeah, that’s why I always like to focus on these brands that are, they’re doing big things. That’s awesome. And I appreciate you definitely coming on here, Steven and sharing all of this information about. This hot topic, the messaging from email to the SMS and to the Facebook messaging and all of these different channels that, that seem to be just kind of popping up overnight.

Um, I’m thinking, where is this all going? Where are we going to be five to six years from now? I’m sure there’s going to be other ways to reach out to people, other platforms. So it’s an exciting time. So we’re really excited to see where all this. And how people can take advantage of this to better their business increase their sales.

So yeah, what I would like to do is just with one final closing fun fact, just to switch gears here, if you don’t mind sharing one fun fact that our audience may be surprised to know about you, or maybe they won’t be surprised to know project. 

Stephen: Yeah. I remember since we go way back on e-commerce how you could go to a conference once a year.

And you’d be all set with ideas and now it just seems like every month there’s a new channel or a new thing popping up and everything’s different. Let’s see. So I guess it’s a fun fact. I am a Korea file, so I’m sure you’ve heard of Anglo files or Franco files. So I had the pleasure of living two years in Seoul, Korea back when, and besides having an incredible appreciation of Korean cuisine, I smile at some of the achievements.

And some of the insights that comes from, uh, from Korea, let’s take it to, um, you know, current events, coronavirus, what country is leading the world in their battle against the coronavirus Korea. Wow. They had an outbreak 10,000 cases and they did some really just through your really comprehensive program they have for the moment really.

Been very effective in their response, but I remember just a couple of years back visiting Korea and I live in New York city. So I’m just a smart ass that thinks, Oh, well I live in New York, everything comes to me. And when I set my foot off that plane, I felt like I was two years ahead of New 

Arlen: York. Okay.


Stephen: With the tech that they have. So with like between the subway system, but even things like I got to see a hologram concert. Which is just a very high futuristic version. That’s a mixture between a TV show and a concert, but, you know, to take it quickly to e-commerce, there is a lot of the stuff that comes out in America is not coming from New York city is not coming from Silicon Valley.

It’s coming from the East because in China, Korea, Japan, for example, the mobile it’s much more mobile centric. They do much more on their phones. I make purchases. Right? So a lot of these. There is that it’s not only, it goes both ways now that some good ideas they come from say, China are going to crop up in the American market.

So that’s what I enjoy about having that insight into Korea is now I look there and I’m like, Oh, this might be an American next year or something like that. 

Arlen: That’s good stuff. And I appreciate you sharing that. And you’re totally right. A lot of people don’t really realize that they’re really leading the way.

And if. If something hits here, technology wise or innovation wise, they’re already there. It’s kind of like on their end. It’s like been there, done that and you know, we’re kind of a little. Late to the game with it. So yeah, it is amazing. It’s awesome that you had opportunity to go there and kind of experience that firsthand.

And I always encourage people to travel just so you get a different perspective and, you know, you can not so close minded and think that everything revolves around us and, you know, specifically here in the U S 

Stephen: it’s good for it’s great for business ideas. 

Arlen: Yeah, definitely. Yeah. You can get a lot of ideas by seeing how other businesses do it.

And other countries do it because they have a whole different mindset and they have different challenges. And so it’s just a whole different system. That’s great. And, you know, thank you for sharing that. And of course, thanks again for joining us today on the eCommerce marketing podcast. And, you know, lastly, if any of our listeners want to get ahold of you and pick your brain anymore about email SMS, or our messaging, what is the best way for them to do that?

Stephen: Thanks for the opportunity to be on the show. And I’m also looking forward to having you on the podcast. That needle movement runs. One place to find me is the needle movement podcast. And we are about 20 episodes in. So we’re not as definitely as far as, uh, as this podcast is the other way to reach me is make it very simple.

Send an email to hello needle, needle movement as the move, the needle. And I look at every email and I will respond to them. And you can also check out the website, needle, move Great. Well, 

Arlen: thank you, Steven, for sharing that. I definitely encourage all of our listeners to take advantage of that.

Reach out to you, check out your podcast and I can’t wait to get on your podcast as well. And, um, chop it up again with, uh, all things e-commerce and specifically some items that I think will be of interest to your listeners as well. So I appreciate that. And thank you again for joining us today on eCommerce marketing podcast.

Stephen: Thanks so much for having me on this is great. 

Podcast Guest Info

Stephen Carl
Founder of Needle Movement