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Thoughtful & Sustainable Business Growth

sustainable business growth

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the hyper growth in businesses that most modern investors expect and what kind of pressure that places on the leaders within those businesses. I’ve been a part of many different kinds of companies – start-ups that grew big and ran profitably and happily for years, start-ups that grew too big and had to scale down, CPGs that were grossly bloated and needed to slim down to return shareholder profits, small companies that pivoted again and again until the right product/market/capital fit revealed itself.

In my 20+ years in this business, I’ve seen a lot of companies make bad decisions because investors wanted returns that weren’t naturally possible. I’ve seen every trick to bump quarterly revenue. I’ve seen how that artificial uptick in quarterly revenue can be misconstrued (or misrepresented to investors) as sustainable. I’ve seen that artificial uptick become part of the plan for the rest of the year. I’ve seen teams struggle to meet those artificial goals. I’ve seen people lose their jobs in trying to meet those artificial goals. Goals that were never real. Goals that were never possible. Goals that — in order to be met — would require damaging whole sections of the business.

A dear friend and I were chatting about this the other day and he shared the same perspective from the wine industry: whether it’s fine wine sales for a boutique distributor or big box sales for large spirits CPGs, your sales for a quarter or a year were always expected to rise year over year. Even if that one quarter last year you did something extraordinary. Even if that one quarter last year a huge new hotel chain opened and filled their cellars with wine for years to come and won’t ever do that again. Even if that one quarter last year saw a trend in rose sales that has never happened again.

We are always chasing more. More revenue. More profits. Greater margins. Bigger sales. More and more and more. And we want our “more” successive. Showing a very clear increase month over month, year over year. Ever chasing the chart that looks great in every deck, every investor pitch — the ever holy trend line up and up and up. Doesn’t matter that nearly every business has a seasonal cycle. Doesn’t matter that every year or crop or season is different. Or that trends may change. Or that we may be R&Ding something revolutionary but that it will take time.

I no longer believe there’s much courage in chasing MOM and YOY profits at all costs. I’m far more interested in building businesses that are intentional, growing naturally with their customers over time. Moving in unison with the ebbs and flows of the market, of trends, of the seasons.

Do we want profitable women-led businesses that allow their founders and their employees to thrive? Of course. Yes. Always. But I’m not convinced that profit at all costs is the answer. I’ve been working with several businesses who have taken a different approach. Who did not start their businesses to become rich and free — but who started their companies to be part of something greater and to have that something greater be sustained over a long period of time. Not just for an investor, a liquidation event or a single season.

A restaurant owner client of mine has it right: she has a thriving tapas restaurant that she opened 20 years ago. Her restaurant has seasons where business is slow and she not only plans for it, she relishes it. The summer and winter are her time to travel the world with her family. When she buys wine from her reps, she knows exactly what she can spend and doesn’t go over, even as her love of fine French wine has only increased with all her travel. She has resisted the calls to open more locations. To expand the size of her space. To add more programming, more menu options, more events to lift business during off-peak times. She makes enough money to have a beautiful home, put her girls through college and take several trips a year to far flung places. Could she make more if she expanded? Yes. Would she work a lot more hours of she expanded? Yes. Is she interested in taking all that on simply for the sake of more, more, more? No. She’s not. She knows who she is, she loves the business she created and she loves the life her business has allowed her to create for herself, her long-time employees and her family.

I firmly believe these are the businesses of the future. The businesses that are not built for big exits, but are built to sustain our souls and our communities. That are intentional, slow, meaningful and wise. Big profits and intentionality aren’t mutually exclusive. But I do believe artificial growth propped up month over month and year over year by yet more artificial growth is not sustainable and is not healthy for anyone involved except for investors.

How do we build businesses that allow us to expand as humans instead of shrinking beneath the weight of more, more, more?

How do we build businesses that earn enough to give owners and employees and communities greater freedom to do what inspires?

This is the work that matters most to me now.

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Brands That Feel Good

I’ve noticed a shift in what I want from a brand. How I want to be sold to from a brand. What endears me to a brand.

I’ve sold every kind of thing you can imagine online: running shoes, houses, luxury cars, yoga classes, weight loss programs, organic salads, concert tickets, hotel rooms and more. I’ve tried every strategy. Employed every tactic. I’ve created every kind of funnel that you hate but that I know works. And as you might imagine, none of those tricks really work on me because I know what they are doing. I’ve done it myself a thousand times. So I often wonder if I’m just tired of the sell, sell, sell or if everyone else is too.

I’ve heard a lot of talk lately about pull selling vs. push selling. About having your customers engage with you as a brand, love what you are all about and buy anyway. No funnels needed. No big launches. No flash sales. No crazy discounts. This all sounds good and fine. But my marketer brain is always running: “if they did just these two things they’d sell more, if they had this in a funnel they’d do better.”

One thing I know for sure: if you as a business owner feel really uncomfortable doing a thing, your customers will notice and feel that too. You can’t run a big sale you don’t believe in. You can’t create content for a funnel you feel crummy about. You can’t launch Facebook retargeting ads that make you feel icky. Your customers will know. They always know.

And so how do you create a marketing plan and generate significant sales and revenue in a way that feels good to you and to your customers? You have to get back to the core of you. Of why you started your business. Why your customers matter to you. What you truly believe they need. You have to start with how you want them to feel at every touchpoint with you. This isn’t easy to do but it is the necessary thing for you to build a brand and a business that your customers resonate with on such a deep level that they will support you and buy your products and services no matter the price, no matter the season, no matter the trends.

A few businesses I’ve been thinking a lot about lately because they just make me feel good at every touchpoint:

    • Cuyana – This brand has such a beautiful philosophy that they extend to every customer and that permeates every item they sell and how they sell it: The Lean Closet. The founders truly believe that the path to a sustainable planet and a healthy, non-stressful way to acquire and get dressed each day starts with owning far less things but owning things of great quality that will stand the test of time. Think about that for a moment. A clothing company that actively wants you to buy less clothing. And really means it. Their goal of fewer, better things really resonates with me right now and they do such a great job of making sure this philosophy is part of every interaction you have with their company. Every page of their site, every email sent, every social interaction is spare, quiet, intentional.
    • CAP Beauty – The founders of CAP Beauty created the company to spread the power of natural skincare and supplements to as many people as possible and they do it in such a personal and powerful way. Their instastories alone offer a masters in natural beauty for anyone who follows along. Through those stories you can see how passionate and knowledgeable about their products they are and it’s infectious. You can tell how much they care and their care makes you care. They are joyful, vibrant, full of knowledge and they offer such a beautiful blend of products that you can’t help but dive in and try for yourself. This is a very different approach than Cuyana but it works for them and pulls customers into their world in such an engaging and informative way.
    • Everlane – You know what they’re all about from your first interaction with the brand: “Exceptional quality. Ethical Factories. Radical Transparency.” Their approach to cutting out the middle players in the fashion food chain and working directly with factories who employ practices up to Everlane standards immediately endears me to this brand. But that same philosophy is carried through all of their marketing materials. Every email for a new product focuses  on the little details that make each piece unique, special. You will never see flashing gifs and huge discount percentages and promo codes and Gap Cash and all the tricks that other clothing brands use to get you to buy. They believe their product and their approach — beautiful photography, lovely copy that highlights detail and quality and ethical fashion — will win. And they deliver it again and again. Consistently. And it works beautifully.

What businesses are making you feel ever so good these days with every interaction?

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5 Podcasts That Inspire Creativity

I feel like we’ve gotten to the point where we can no longer listen to podcasts leisurely on a long road trip (think of Serial when you first heard it, or any number of mysteries solved over many, many episodes) if we are entrepreneurs of any kind. It feels as if we need to now use every spare moment to hone our skills, refine our brand, develop new funnels, join mastermind groups and listen to seven marketing podcasts a week just to stay current.

I feel that pressure and I actively try to ignore it and intuitively find my way to podcasts that tell me a great story (I love a good story unfolding over long drive up to SF!) and that inspire me. Because ultimately, any company you launch requires you to be a great storyteller and very creative in how you approach nearly every aspect of your business.

These five podcasts have been inspiring me lately, so I thought I’d share:

  • Creative Mornings – I remember going to my first CreativeMornings talk in downtown LA years ago and feeling as if I’d found my people. I had perceived the community to be small then, accessible. I had just started my own agency and I had unconventional hours and needed to connect with creatives who could help deliver for my clients. I loved those talks and I love this collection of talks from people I greatly admire. Worth your time – even if you cherry pick episodes based on topic or speaker.
  • 99% Invisible – Every. Single. Episode. Teaches me something I had no idea I didn’t know. Not all of the information is necessary to run your business or nab your next client, but it is pretty amazing how many things are part of our daily lives that we simply take for granted. But someone, at a specific time and for a specific reason, made the thing you pass every day on your way to work or the thing you take for granted as “just part of life.” And it’s kind of incredible to understand the story behind those things.
  • Bookworm – I was a lit major (which so many of you don’t know) and for a long time, I was a book blogger and covered “all things bookish” in LA for LAist. I’ve always been a writer and I always will be at heart. I find writers discussing their novels to be fascinating – from the conception of characters and plot structure to what shaped them as artists. Michael Silverblatt drives me a little nuts most of the time, and this is less of a podcast/more of a show, and this may feel far afield as a podcast for inspiring creativity in your business,but I always find myself thinking about things differently after an episode.
  • Smart People Podcast – I love to pick episodes that interest me, but mostly I love to listen in order because I end up listening to a speaker about a topic that I never would have sought out and it opens up my thinking in an entirely new way.
  • Heroine – I was only recent introduced to this podcast so I’ve been devouring the episodes. They are all women and all inspiring. Their stories of circuitous career trajectories and how they handle creative blocks and how they’ve learned to become leaders are powerful and inspiring. The interviews are with women I admire greatly – some of whom I’ve even worked with. I can’t recommend this one enough. Truly.

I hope these inspire you and help get you out of feeling like you have to listen to umpteen million “professional” podcasts so you can be a proper founder. Would also love to hear what you’re listening to and how it inspires your work.

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Whether you run your own business or work at a company that has remote employees, you have likely had at least one person on a recent project that is not in your physical location for most of your time working together. This is the nature of the gig economy we are currently living in. So the question isn’t why? It’s how. How do I manage a remote team and over-deliver on all my projects and revenue projections?

I’ve managed remote teams for years – on extremely complicated projects and really short, simple ones – and I’ve developed a few key rules that ensure communication is clear, deadlines are set and met and everyone gets the attention they need to thrive.

  • What kind of manager are you? Be honest. Several managers who are uncomfortable with remote employees don’t ever seem to get comfortable with it — they want to see their team members every day and if they can’t see them working, they will always wonder if they really are working. Other managers have a certain collaborative style in which they’d like to pull people into meetings all the time, throughout the day, for quick brainstorms and check-ins. Do you know what type of manager you are? What type of communication you need to feel work is getting done and the team is being productive? This is key to setting up your remote team. If you need a lot of FaceTime, daily video chats with your entire team will be vital. If you trust your team and want to manage to deadlines and deliverables as your measure of success, task management systems like Asana and quick, easy communication tools like Slack may be all you need.
  • Clearly document expectations, deadlines and deliverables. If you scope the work clearly, communicate it clearly and have systems in place to track progress regularly, you can manage anyone remotely for years and have great success. The key here is “clearly.” What is clear to you may not be clear to others. Err on the side of over communication and give team members ample opportunities to ask questions before they get started. Since they can’t just walk over to your desk and ask you, be sure to clarify those early steps of a project so when they are off and working, there’s no ambiguity about what’s expected and by when. Let those guidelines and systems help your team deliver rather than you micro-managing them because you can’t see them. No one likes that.
  • Be human. Though you don’t see each other as you fix your lunch in the office kitchen or as you wait for the elevator each morning, it’s important to check in with your team members about human stuff often. How was their weekend? How was their vacation? What are their plans for the holidays? Remember their birthdays. Their children’s names. And listen to them when they share their answers. It’s important and provides that human connection.
  • Meet in person whenever you can. I’ve managed so many people remotely that we eventually learn a shorthand with each other and communication and expectations are even easier. But that takes a long time to establish. I’ve found the most critical times to meet in person are at the beginning, during big sprints on a big project and as you are nearing the final stages of something. This builds instant rapport, it helps with the being human bit and it gives you a real sense of how best to work with the new person you’ve brought on to the team. I like to use these in person meetings to figure out what makes them tick and agree together what mode of communication works best for when we are remote.
  • Hold your team accountable. When deadlines have been missed or the quality of work delivered is not where it needs to be, you need to be clear and direct and firm with your remote team. You don’t need to belabor the point, but because you are not all in the same room, sometimes it can be difficult for a team to palpably feel the disappointment. When noting how a team has fallen short, remember to end that meeting with clear goals about how to course-correct. You want to be firm but you also don’t want your remote team to despair so much that they lose a day of work disconnected from others and concerned.
  • Hire great people who thrive remotely. This seems like a no-brainer, but I’ve hired the wrong people for remote jobs several times. They believe they want to work remotely and manage their day on their own. They believe they want to focus on work and not engage with co-workers for hours at a time. But once they get into the role, they realize they really miss having lunch with people. And chatting in between meetings. And planning happy hours and outings together. Some people are made for working remotely and others are not. Hire amazing people who are self-motivated and professional and know themselves well enough to know that they can thrive working remotely.
  • Give praise where praise is due. Effusively. With such clear expectations and deliverables and systems in place to manage it all remotely, it can be a little too easy to improperly celebrate big wins. Huge projects completed. New accounts won. Big goals met. Go out of your way to celebrate those wins as a team to let your team know you really see them, really appreciate them and value their work.

What other systems have you found helpful in managing teams remotely? Would love to hear them!

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How to Figure Out What You’re Really Good At

You’ve seen all the Pinterest quotes. You’ve screenshot-ed several Instagram stories about it. You’ve puzzled over this idea while also aspiring to embody it: “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” We are constantly told to do what we love. But what if we don’t know what we love?

What no one ever says in all the pressure to “hustle” and be a “girl boss” is: how the heck do you figure out what you’re really good at? And then how do you turn that into a job? A job you could really love?

Here are some tried and true tips, suggestions, exercises and places to start sorting what you’re great at and could turn into a really amazing business or job:

    • What are your go-to survival skills? What life skills have been your go-to when things get tough? What skills have gotten you out of jams, helped you excel when you had too much work on your plate in college or a lot of family stress? Those go-to skills are an indicator of what you’re good at. Even if you’ve never had a job that utilized these skills, identify them and start to think about what jobs would tap into these skills that you possess in spades.
    • What work comes easiest/do you always tackle first? Think back over to all the work you’ve done so far in your life. Of all the projects you’ve been a part of, all the clients you’ve helped, all the meetings you’ve been in, all the presentations you’ve put together – what do you enjoy the most? We gravitate towards the work we know we can deliver easily because it comes naturally to us. What parts of your work would you do all day if you could? Those are your strengths.
    • What work do you wish you never had to do again? Though every job has parts we don’t enjoy, as you think back through all the work you love, it’s just as important to think about work you really would prefer never to do again. Part of figuring out what you’re good at is understanding what you aren’t good at. Hate spreadsheets and accounting? Good to know. Not a fan of data and statistics? That tells you a lot. Terrified when you have to write a brief? Speak in front of a group of peers? These are all indicators of work you don’t want to do and are likely not as good at.
    • Do you regularly get a certain compliment and brush it aside? Think back over your life and interactions with others From when you were young all the way up to right now. Is there a through line of the type of complements you receive that you tend to ignore? We brush off complements for things we know we are good at or find unremarkable in ourselves. Whatever those qualities are – we brush them off because they come so easily to us. Figure out what those are and you’ll be closer to knowing what you’re not just good at, but great at.

Many of us have ended up in jobs we don’t love and we aren’t even aware that part of the reason we don’t love our jobs is because we don’t use our strengths on the job. Or we only use a fraction of our strengths. And if we are promoted for the other bits? We end up doing yet more work we don’t love. And once you are at a certain salary and position earning a great living but doing work you don’t love it’s really hard to stop for a moment, listen to yourself, and realize you aren’t happy because you are doing work that is really hard for you as it doesn’t play to your strengths.

So instead of following along with the “find work you love” quotes and theories, I’m a firm believer in sorting what you are really good at first and then using that list to inform the kind of work you want to do for income. Because no one loves a job that forces them to do work all day they struggle with. Excelling at work is a part of “loving” it.

I’ve spent far too much of my career doing high-paid work that I can’t stand. Once I understood my strengths and what I’d really prefer to do all day, it shifted the entire game for me. I want the same for you.

Get out there and figure out your strengths!

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5 Podcasts Every Entrepreneur Should Devour

Starting a business isn’t easy. Sustaining one can be even tougher. When the novelty of being your own boss has worn off and the reality of payroll and a less than stellar recent product launch has you in fits, you’ll take advice and inspiration from anyone with a good idea. Why not take advice from some of the best in the world?

These are my go-to podcasts for entrepreneurs in need of practical advice, tough love and a healthy dose of inspiration to keep going:

  • The Lively Show – Jess has created something so special – a place to hear from inspiring and successful entrepreneurs not just about how they started their businesses, but how they navigate all aspects of their life with intention and purpose. If you’ve started a wellness business, a purpose-driven company or a mission-based situation and are struggling with how to walk the line between do-gooding and sound business acumen, this is a podcast for you.
  • How I Built This – I know so many people who listen to this podcast with NPR’s Guy Raz that it feels a little silly to include it in a list – but it is THAT good. If you’ve ever been stumped as a business owner about how another company solved a certain problem or created a certain product, this is your podcast. Not every brand is tiny – but they all started small and their stories of growth and failure and getting back on the horse and trying again are inspirational as well as practical.
  • Online Marketing Made Easy by Amy Porterfield – The title says it all which is how you know she knows her stuff. I could so easily include her podcast on my list of must-listen marketing pods, but her show is so much more. She truly breaks down everything, shares everything, shows everything, hides nothing. If are are struggling to hire the right marketer or consultant and aren’t sure if you’re ready but need desperately to launch some things on your own, her podcast will not steer you astray. You will get legit tips on how to launch FB ads, create funnels, optimize your shopping cart, organize your funnels and track your sales. You’d be silly not to listen. Really.
  • School of Greatness with Lewis Howes – If I had a dollar for every time a School of Greatness podcast made me pull over while driving so I could properly take notes, I’d be a rich woman. I don’t listen to every episode and I definitely cherry pick to find interviews with guests I think I’ll resonate with the most. But! I’ve gotten such great insight and tips on how to approach business, how to approach a money mindset, how to remove obstacles in your business and so much more from this podcast that I’d be remiss not to include it.  Such a range of guests and Lewis is so prepared for every interview and so unflinching in his questions that I think he gets some of their best stuff.
  • This Week in Startups – For YEARS I’ve been listening to Jason Calcanis interview top startup leaders and every episode gives me something entirely different. Sometimes the tips are practical, sometimes the stories are tragic, often the entrepreneur is at a crossroads. But what I always find most fascinating about his conversations is that he talks about big ideas and his guests are just the right people to do that with him. This is less a podcast for practical A-Z steps on any one thing in your business and more a podcast about thinking bigger than you currently are – approaching the existing landscape in a different way. It inspires me regularly even when I’m don’t even know who the guest is or what they’ll talk about.

I listen to so many podcasts! It was tough to narrow it down to five. But you are a busy entrepreneur and you have limited time. These are the best listens that will round you out, IMO. Listen to them and let me know what you think. I’d love to hear from you about the podcasts that have helped you the most as an entrepreneur.

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When Your Business Needs a Swiss Army Knife

When Your Business Needs a Swiss Army KnifeI’ve had a lot of clients in my career. I’ve helped businesses at nearly every stage – from startups to global multi-million CPG companies. I’ve seen small teams deliver big, I’ve seen big teams deliver small. I’ve seen teams grow drastically in size as a result of success and I’ve seen teams grow drastically in size in anticipation of a success that never comes.

Through it all, one thing stands out to me as particularly needed for businesses at a certain early-ish stage: a need for a swiss army knife. A need for a single person who can come in and wear a lot of hats, guiding the business where it needs to go until it’s time to start taking off those hats one by one and hiring for those specific roles. I’ve seen so many entrepreneurs get caught up in hiring a team of specialists too early on and they worry about the cumulative costs of those fees while never quite getting the big-picture, global-view and also hands-on execution and direction they need first. All in one person.

You could hire a marketing specialist and a social specialist and a funnel specialist and a strategist and an e-commerce expert and a branding expert and a sales expert and a customer service expert. And I hope that you do, over time. Experts are great and in order to truly grow your business, you need a team of the exact right experts deployed on the exact challenges your specific business faces.

It’s tempting to build a team without quite knowing what you need first, second and third. But I challenge you to really consider your skills and strengths – where are you strongest? what can you entirely take the lead on in your business in a way that no one (not even a specialist!) could do better than you? – and your weaknesses. Is accounting your thing or not? Is marketing your thing or not? Do you know what you want from your sales team and how to get it out of them? Is networking a pain point but your business needs key new contacts to grow? Are you clear on your product, your offers, your prices and how they sit in context to the rest of the market? What are your goals? How are you going to get there? Are your financials in order? If so, what capital or recurring sales are needed to get you to the next goal, the next hire, the next big account?

Amazing female founders the world over: before you hire specialists, hire someone who can do a lot of different things extremely well. Hire someone who specializes in being exactly what you need across all the parts of your business and that complements your strengths and weaknesses. Hire a swiss army knife who has just the right tools and can deploy them in just the right way to get you to the next level.

I have been lucky enough to be a swiss army knife for a range of companies and it has been my most rewarding work. Handing off those hats one at a time (welcome to the team, new Growth Manager; lovely to have you on board, Head of Sales; thrilled you’re here, Customer Care Manager!) is so rewarding for me because I know it means that I’ve gotten my clients to a place where they are able to hire specialists and hire them at the right time with confidence that they are ready. Those are my favorite interviews!

If you are in need of a swiss army knife for your business, let me know. Let’s have a chat about your business, what’s needed and how I can help you build the company of your dreams.

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Digital Health Startups Changing the Game

digital health startups

I’ve worked with a lot of health-related companies in my career — from big pharma to startups. I’ve also had some great and truly not so great healthcare experiences. I also have people in my life who’ve struggled to find just the right care for their specific condition for most of their lives. They are still searching and can regale you with terrible stories of  truly awful doctor/patient exchanges that will leave you in tears. We can do better. We have to do better. Digital health startups hold so much promise but in many cases, new companies must integrate or work within or figure out how to circumvent or reinvent giant, unweildy, vastly flawed systems or ways of working. The challenge is great, the goal is greater.

Here are a few of the digital health companies I’m currently rooting for, because I love what they’re about and the problems they are trying to tackle:

  • Heal – On-demand doctors available for house calls. “Great, affordable healthcare in the comfort of our patient’s homes.” I was recently in San Diego, got sick in the wee hours of the morning with a terrible ear ache and didn’t know what to do. All my doctors were in LA. None of the walk-in clinics nearby were open yet. I did some quick online research, found Heal, downloaded the app and learned I could have a doctor come over within a few short hours. Amazing. I cannot tell you the piece of mind that gave me at 3an. I want everyone to have access to that kind of peace of mind when they or a loved one is suddenly sick and needs help, even when they’re out of town.
  • Impact Health – The pitch: “Never call a health insurance company again.” SOLD x 100! As someone who just spent THREE DAYS (THREE. DAYS.) on the phone with many different departments of both HealthNet and BlueShield to sort a clerical error that didn’t cancel my HealthNet insurance properly which meant my new provider wouldn’t cover me even though I was approved and had already paid for the month of August (all while needing to see a doctor urgently for a bad cough), I would love to never have to call another insurance company again. It was truly maddening to spend that amount of time on the phone with various entities, all to get an “H code” removed from my HealthNet coverage so it was clear to my new provider that I was truly no longer covered by HealthNet. I was caught in some weird health insurance limbo where no prescriptions could be filled and no doctors could be seen, all because of a tiny clerical error that took many managers days to sort. ImpactHealth helps you sign up for coverage, find great doctors and helps you sort all your bills. All for free. An amazing service that is truly welcome.
  • Maven Clinic – Here’s the pitch: “We started Maven because we want to make it easier for women to get immediate, professional care, from someone they trust. Wherever they are, whenever they need it. We’ve built a network of doctors, nurse practitioners, mental health providers, and specialists in all areas of women’s and children’s health, and make it easy for women to connect with them directly via video appointment or private message—whether it’s for a prescription or just for peace of mind.” If Maven can be Heal + Impact for women’s health, it will be a home run.
  • GoodRx – The pitch: “Empowers consumers who are trying to get the best deals on prescription drugs. Its website and mobile app provide over 500 million pricing options for more than 6,000 different medications, with real-time updates on discounts, coupons and price fluctuations.” I don’t have any regular medications so I’ve never quite understood the stress involved in shifting costs depending on your health coverage (or lack thereof) and where you fulfill your prescription. But I had lunch with a friend yesterday who was prescribed eye drops for an eye infection at a walk-in clinic. The clinic was going to charge her $15 for the drops but realized they were out of them so they called the prescription into a local pharmacy. The pharmacy told her the cost would be $240. Insane. After some wrangling and some coupon-finding, it was sorted and though the price wasn’t $15, it was well under $100. But imagine if the coupon-finding couldn’t happen? And imagine if she needed this medication every month? Such a needed and valuable service.
  • Parsley Health – The only medical practice with a 360° approach to long-term health. Parsley Health was founded in 2015 by Dr. Robin Berzin MD, a Columbia-trained physician, digital health expert, and leader in functional medicine. Robin believes that medicine should put nutrition, wellness and prevention on the front lines of health care, while simultaneously making care smart and data-driven to meet our needs in today’s world. For $150/month, you have access to in-person and online care, 5 doctors visits, 24 ongoing health “coaching” visits and access to a wealth of medicine, wellness and nutrition data that will help you address every aspect of your health including and most importantly, preventive health. Imagine seeing a doctor to stay healthy, rather than seeing one only when you are sick.

There are a ton of other companies doing great work on the doctor side of the patient/doctor exchange, making it easier for doctors to access your data in one place, provide better care to you, prescribe more than just medicine to you, combine your own quantified self data with theirs and so much more. Next time, I’ll do a round-up of those digital health companies.

Would love know what companies are on your radar or that you’ve used and have found to be game-changers in your own personal healthcare journey.

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Conversion Marketing Done Right: Warby Parker

Warby Parker's Excellent Product Marketing

As a marketer, I’m always fascinated with the conversion marketing funnels of other companies. Where do users get stuck in the process? How do companies try to get them over the hump? What tools do they employ to make the process pleasant, friction-free, brand-positive and most importantly, how do they close the deal?

I wondered this for quite some time about Warby Parker when they first launched. You get the frames at home, try them on, decide what you want, mail them back, wait for your glasses to arrive. It felt like a lot of steps. A lot of steps both online and off. A true challenge for any company. But I didn’t need new glasses.

Until I did.

The Process

While many things stood out to me about the absolutely kick-ass purchase process that Warby Parker has finely honed, what impressed me most were how they tackled the parts of the conversion process that would likely provide the most friction or where a customer would be most in danger of falling off the radar.

It started out simply – go online, take the quiz, pick some recommended frames (maybe pick some others that weren’t recommended for your face shape) and get 5 of them sent to your house. Easy. Anyone can order free things to be sent. First step, accomplished.

This is where my marketer mind was waiting for it to get interesting. I had all the usual questions (would my frames arrive on time? would I like them?) but my main focus was on how Warby Parker would try to guide me through the process. I wanted to experience their conversion marketing approach to see how it felt being “in the funnel.”

The package arrived on time. I was texted and emailed about it. The box arrived while I was out of town so I didn’t get to them for a few days (and you are technically supposed to only keep them for 5 days before mailing back.) I was not yet back in Los Angeles, when I received one of the most effective emails I’ve ever received from a company:

 

Funny. A little irreverent. Totally on brand. Reinforces for me why I chose Warby Parker in the first place, because they totally get me. And I recognize the nudge. As in: “Hey, it’s been awhile and you’ve not ordered yet. Just checking in – you’re gonna look great!”

But the second part of the email is where I truly fell in love:

Not only does the email remind me of what I ordered, it makes it ever so easy to simply just say “YES! I’ll take it!” right from the email.  So many conversion marketing approaches get it wrong in this exact regard – they make it tough to go back and figure out what you ordered and they are pushy when they do it. A hundred other companies would have sent a slightly nagging email that reminded me I only had a few days to order. I love that Warby Parker stayed away from that completely. This email is the perfect combination of brand voice and storytelling (reminding me of the value at only $95 with prescription, reflecting back to me the unspoken “cool” that reinforces for me why I chose the brand in the first place) but also purely transactional excellence. BUY THE GLASSES, LADY. But in the most chill, beach vibes kind of way.

I get my glasses, I try them on, I know what I’m going to order. Now to actually do it. This was also part of the funnel that I wondered about. Would this be easy to do? How simple is it to give them my prescription, order my glasses, etc. A lifelong marketer is ever-curious about these things.

The Potential Funnel Friction

Everything about ordering the glasses was simple and mostly friction-free. Mostly. I took a photo of my prescription and uploaded it, I used that magical email to order my frames and I was almost in business. The one thing that remained was taking a “PD” test. They needed me to take an online Pupillary Distance test so they could place my prescription correctly within each lens based on how far apart my pupils are from one another and the specific frames I chose. This is where I thought the wheels might come off. But Warby Parker had a finely-tuned way of handling even this.

Using your computer’s web cam, you can follow their simple online instructions to take a photo and upload it to your account. Easy peasy, right? Except mine didn’t work. It could not access my web cam. Over and over, I tried. I had visions of so many Warby Parker customer stuck in this particular part of the sales funnel. I did everything and now I have to do this funky test and it’s not working? Boo! But before I lost my cool, I noticed they had online customer chat. An absolute must to bridge the gap between online/offline experience and any ordering process that might have a few snags.

I started a chat session with “Caitlyn” and within moments, my issue was resolved, my PD test was complete and my order was placed! What could have been a deal-breaker was resolved within a few quick minutes. I did a silent high-five to the Warby Parker team for having tools available at every stage of the funnel. They also texted me during this time (though I didn’t see the texts until later) that they needed me to complete the PD test.

Immediately following my chat with Caitlyn, I got an email asking me to rate my experience:

And of course, they sent me an email confirming they had everything they needed:

Well done, Warby Parker. Well done.

Conversion Marketing Done Right

I’ve spent my career thinking about these exact moments of customer experience – from the Lexus Your Customer As Your Guest program all those years ago to managing online purchasing of ASICS to converting someone from a free trial of YogaGlo. I’m always trying to engineer conversion marketing approaches that take into account all the places it might go awry. It makes me so happy when I’m on the receiving end of truly excellent marketing.

I also love that they mixed it up — some emails throughout this process were fully designed out, some were text-based and simple like the one above. I recommend both. Not every email needs to be a gorgeous work of art. Especially if you are testing out different messaging or are taking too long to design out your communication plan for closing the deal. Sometimes a simple message is better than one that never gets sent because your entire marketing team is debating email design.

I’d love to know what they A/B tested, which messaging they tried that didn’t perform was well as what they sent me, what tests they are running now even as I type this.

It’s been over a week since I got the try-on frames and they finally sent that “Hey, please send your at-home try-on frames back!” email. But it was nudge-y in a lovely way and revisits the key brand elements while also being transactional (please send back our frames!):  getting me excited for my recent purchase (they are on the way!), reminding me of the value I get when I choose Warby Parker (100% UV protection, anti-reflective, etc) AND stoking my inner do-gooder vibe by reminding me that for every pair sold another pair goes to someone in need. This email accomplishes a ton with such brevity.

My experience might be typical or atypical. I’d guess most people come away pretty impressed with the whole shebang. I’m sure the Warby Parker team has had to troubleshoot all sorts of funnel scenarios: what if the customer doesn’t like any of the 5 try-ons and wants to try again and again and again? what if the customer never sends the frames back (I’d LOVE to see that email communication path, what if i put glasses in my shopping cart over and over and never make a purchase (would LOVE to see that communication path – email + retargeting + you name it, too!), what if, what if, what if. This is the stuff of great product marketing. Thinking about all the ways your process can close the deal in a way that makes your customer want to write a post about how truly kick-ass the whole process was.

They also make the entire process personal – human beings are featured in their emails trying on the glasses, I chatted with Caitlyn, I got a text from Sam. This is such an important piece of the messaging puzzle when trying to bridge the online/offline purchase loop. Real people (or AI bots?), helping me with my order feels good.

I await the arrival of my new glasses, warm from the glow of a great customer experience. This is what we all strive for in the work we do. Now get out there and close the deal by making your customers feel excellent!

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Patagonia: The Original Content Marketers

There is so much buzz these days about content marketing for very good reason. When we create content that our customers need (even crave?), we can connect to them in an extremely meaningful way that allows us to build a stronger relationship with them. We create brand ambassadors, we create customer loyalty and we create the holy grail of word of mouth recommendations. Content marketing isn’t new – great brands have been doing it for a very long time now – but in the past few years it has become a much bigger sword to wield in digital marketing as spending has moved away from ads and into a world where we map out every stage of the customer lifecycle to meet them exactly where they are with the exact content they need to move them through each stage of the funnel until we get a conversion. I’ve not been to a single networking event, marketing conference or joined a digital Facebook group in the last year in which content marketing isn’t one of the main topics of discussion.

I have been reading Yvon Chouinard’s Let My People Go Surfing recently and while I’m struck by many things – the passion for getting everything right, the ethical obligation to make products that last, the serious commitment to activism, his deep love of the outdoors – what really stands out for me is how early on Patagonia realized what many marketers have only begun to realize in the past few years: if we want to sell our customers something we believe they need, we have to create content to educate them on why they need it and how it fits into their lives.

The Patagonia catalog, even in its very early days, devoted a ton of space to that very education. Essays on why you should layer clothing and how to do it and think-pieces on environmental issues took up valuable space that could have been devoted to featuring more products. But Yvon and his team understood early on that these essays would do more to sell their products than featuring a few more photos and prices and SKUs on those pages ever would. They were providing their customers with useful knowledge while also establishing the company ethos and reminding every customer why they so identified with Patagonia. Brilliant.

All those years ago, they were storytelling – a buzzword that seems to be everywhere these days but is a concept any season marketer has employed for years. At every opportunity, remind your customers why they are choosing you and why choosing you is the right choice.

“My first principle of mail order argues that “selling” ourselves and our philosophy is equallyimportant to selling product. Telling the Patagonia story and educating the Patagonia customer on layering systems, on environmental issues, and on the business itself are as much the catalog’s mission as is selling the products. This has several practical implications, including how we measure the success of a catalog, how we format the information, and how we allocate space. Above its value as a sales tool, the catalog is first of all an image piece, presenting the company’s values and obligations.”

What’s more, they tracked the results as any good marketers should and played with different ratios of content to product/product to content. And they found that good storytelling that directly reinforces the values of the brand wins out:

“Over the years we have come upon a balance between product content and message — essays, stories, and image photos. Whenever we have edged that content towards increased product presentation, we have actually experienced a decrease in sales.”

It’s fair to say that my already-intense devotion to Patagonia as a brand has only increased after reading Yvon’s book and seeing just how truly ahead of the curve he was in every aspect of his business. And how absolutely incredible that it all stemmed from a lifelong passion – something he would have happily pursued outside of “work.” A lesson for us all.

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