EP1: How to Market Your Small Business + Benefits of YouTube Influencers | Andrew Stephenson, VP of Marketing at NewAir

Welcome to Page 1:

Thanks for tuning in to the first episode of the Page 1 Podcast.

I’m your host Luke Peters and every week I’ll be bringing you two new podcasts about the consumer product world. My guests and I will cover topics like channel conflicts, tariffs, product launches, and online sales tactics. But what will our main area of focus be? rCommerce. We will talk about how your consumer product company can increase sales on the eCommerce platforms of Lowe’s, Home Depot, Wayfair, Walmart, Target, Amazon, and other big-box retailers. All you have to do is tune in each week for tips and tricks on how to get your products to page 1 of search results from though-leaders in the industry.

What you’ll learn:

Today’s episode digs deep into how you can market a small business with limited resources.

Our guest, Andrew Stephenson, shares his marketing success stories and his strategies for marketing a business on a tight budget. His heavy-hitting tactics? YouTube Influencers and Social Media. We also talk about what makes for a successful product launch and the dos and don’ts of product asset creation.

About our guest:

Andrew Stephenson has been Vice President of NewAir for the past 2 and a half years. A 20-year industry expert, Andrew brings a unique combination of digital strategy, entrepreneurial vision and an unwavering passion for delivering tangible results to his current role. Prior to joining Newair®, Andrew held key positions at top North American agencies including Mosaic Sales Solutions, where he served as vice president, designing and executing award-winning campaigns and thought leadership for Fortune 500 clients such as Samsung, Starbucks, Microsoft, Royal Bank of Canada, Bayer Pharmaceuticals, Virgin Gaming, P&G, Clorox and many more.

Key takeaways from this episode:

  • The brand benefits of YouTube Influencers – 4:24
  • How to market your small business with Instagram – 6:01
  • How to capture key data insights on Instagram – 7:38
  • What to consider when you create visual assets for your products – 9:25
  • The types of images you need to market your products on big-box retail sites – 11:50
  • The process behind a successful product launch – 14:48
  • How and where to use user-generated content – 17: 34
  • Inspirational brands to watch – 20:40

Podcast Transcription

Announcer: Welcome to the Page One Podcast, a weekly podcast featuring a variety of guests and thought leaders on topics ranging from channel strategies to tariffs, influencer marketing, best-in-class product launches, and all the details about how to accelerate your eCommerce sales with the big box retailers or what we call rCommerce. Now here’s your host, Luke Peters.

Luke Peters: Hi, my name is Luke Peters, your host for the Page One Podcast. I have 17 years in online sales and product development, and my goal is to bring in the best leaders to talk about growing rCommerce sales. That is sales at Home Depot, Lowe’s, Wayfair, and Walmart and all of those other forgotten retailers that can account for more than 50% of your company’s online sales.

Luke Peters: Today, I’m thrilled to have Andrew Stephenson, VP of marketing at NewAir Appliances, with me. How’s it going, Andrew?

Andrew S.: Hey, Luke, thanks for having me.

Luke Peters: For all our listeners out there, Andrew and I worked together at NewAir, and he’s been instrumental in bringing this podcast to life, and we’re excited to kick this thing off. So today, Andrew’s got in a really interesting background, worked in a lot of interesting roles. And today we’re going to focus on influencers, photos, generating amazing content for your products and brands. So how’s that sound?

Andrew S.: I’m excited to talk about it.

Luke Peters: All right, cool. So, Andrew, why don’t we just start back with your Canadian roots?

Andrew S.: Yay.

Luke Peters: Working as a fireman, saving the world in Canada, but I guess take it from there. Why don’t you kind of kick off, on the professional side, what was the experience leading up to your role now that kind of got things going for you?

Andrew S.: Yeah, for sure. So, yes, Canadian, moved to the U.S. About five years ago. My background’s actually in agencies, so I’ve been fortunate enough to work at a variety of different digital marketing agencies with a whole wide variety of different clients. So everyone from small businesses up to some of the largest brands in the world, i.e., the Cokes and Samsungs and Microsofts of the world. So in those experiences, I was really fortunate to be able to really understand how they’re doing their marketing.

Andrew S.: So yeah, I mean, I guess with 20 years marketing experience at a variety of different marketing agencies, working on everything from small businesses and small brands up to some of the largest brands in the world has really opened my eyes to how to really best market a wide variety of different types of products and services.

Andrew S.: And so taking those learnings, that’s what I’ve been using at NewAir for the last two-plus years as we continue to evolve the brand and the different products that we’re bringing to market.

Luke Peters: That’s great, and I think a lot of our listeners would be interested to know you working from an agency background, and now you’re working directly on a brand. If you can kind of compare and contrast those, how it’s different for your role.

Andrew S.: Yeah, for sure. I think one of the things that I got really excited about with starting a new era was being able to actually just focus on one brand. Now, there’s a whole bunch of different products or skus underneath there, of course, that we have to think about, but it’s really being able to focus on one brand.

Andrew S.: The one thing when you work at an agency is that in the morning, you know, you might be working on a marketing brief for one client and then, two hours later, have to completely shift gears to something else and work for another few hours on something else for another client. And so it’s a little disruptive, and I think being able to focus on one brand at one time allows me to get a lot deeper in terms of the real learnings of the brand and understanding who the consumers are and then how to best put assets together around that.

Luke Peters: So why don’t we just dive in? Thanks for that background. And what’s most important here on the Page One Podcast is that we’re giving actionable information, okay, that the listeners can really follow up on. And our listeners are probably going to be business owners or executives at these consumer product companies selling into these large, big-box retailers like Home Depot.

Luke Peters: You and I have worked together and had some really fun success in that area. And personally for me, marketing is something I really enjoy. And that’s why I think I enjoy working with you in these areas. So why don’t we start off by talking about influencers, because I think that, in our category, we feel it kind of sets us apart. We’re working with influencers, where usually that’s done in the fashion industry, but we’re doing it in the appliance industry, which is super sexy, and it’s been a lot of fun.

Luke Peters: So, Andrew, why don’t we start at the beginning? Let’s talk about the influencer marketing program from the beginning, just to give everybody a baseline understanding of kind of what we’re doing.

Andrew S.: Yeah, so we launched our influencer marketing program around two years ago and with a real focus on YouTube as our main platform for how we’re going to reach out to influencers in our space. So the whole goal was, we have a team in-house that literally reaches out to people on YouTube, asking them if they’ll put one of our products into their YouTube videos.

Andrew S.: Of course we ask them to do a variety of different things within that, but the whole goal out of that is that it’s to get other people talking about our brand, talking about our products, talking about how great they are, what they like or don’t like about them, sharing that with their network. But we also use it from more of a search engine perspective as well.

Andrew S.: So we make sure that all the videos are tagged properly with the proper title tags, proper descriptions, proper links, things like that. So that as someone, a consumer, is in their buying purchase-decision cycle, wherever they are in that life cycle, you know, when they start a Google and they start Googling around, looking for different products or specific products, the goal is that our videos come up the top of the page so that we have other people talking about our products and how great they are before someone’s making that purchase.

Luke Peters: Yep. And YouTube is just a massive search engine. So, I mean, that’s the place I wanted to start. And knowing that, you know, a lot of consumer behaviors are shifting off of Google per se. They’re going to YouTube, they’re going to Amazon, they’re going to a lot of, you know, Instagram.

Luke Peters: So YouTube was the first mountain we climbed. And then I guess now, Instagram has become another success story. So you want to kind of briefly go into that one?

Andrew S.: Yeah, for sure. I think, you know, it’s interesting because the YouTube… Just to touch on the YouTube thing for a second, in terms of, it’s the second largest search engine to Google. And obviously Google owns YouTube, so the two work really well together. So from a marketing strategy perspective, when you’re doing things in YouTube, it just sort of naturally and inherently helps you rank better through Google when people are doing searches for videos and things like that. So that inherently helps, kind of kills two birds with one stone, then, that we’re getting a lot of YouTube videos, but we’re also the ability to get our stuff higher up on the search engine rankings when people are looking for different products or brands.

Andrew S.: So on that side. And then on the Instagram side, what we did was, we started… I think when I first started, we had about, I don’t know, maybe 200 followers on Instagram, and we decided that… It’s really hard as a brand and especially as a small brand, we have a smaller team to do everything. So we decided back in the day that we were going to focus on a couple of key channels, and one was obviously YouTube for influencers, and then we decided that we wanted to use Instagram to really help build the brand and the brand awareness. And the Instagram channel for us is all about aspirational and inspirational photography using our products. And that’s, really the whole purpose of that is to help build brand awareness with that audience. So we put a lot of goals and measures in place.

Andrew S.: And over the year we built out our followers to be over 10,000 followers within a year. So we’re really proud of the work we’ve done there. I think we’re close to 13,000 now.

Luke Peters: Exactly. And then, and beyond just the followers, there’s other metrics. For example, why don’t you walk me through kind of how we’re working directly with influencers and how they’re sharing that content? Because a lot of that’s not captured in the follower number because that’s happening on so many other influencers’ pages, where there’s a lot happening out there, and you can’t just capture it just by looking at the follower list.

Andrew S.: Right.

Luke Peters: So talk about that.

Andrew S.: Yeah, for sure. I think our baseline metrics are, obviously we’re looking to see how many followers we have, but I think obviously it’s all about engaged followers. So on our count, where we want to make sure that we’re always posting content that people want to engage with and comment on and we are asking for their feedback on different products and things like that.

Andrew S.: And that’s really important, but as part of our overall Instagram strategy, we also work and collaborate with other brands and larger influencers on Instagram. So the whole goal of that is that we’re now reaching new audiences through their accounts as well. They obviously have… we try to work with accounts that are Instagram accounts that are a lot larger than ours because it gives us access to their followers.

Andrew S.: So we do a lot of collaborations where it might be a giveaway, where people are following our account and following their account so that they can have their chance to win something. So it helps build our followers, but it also allows us to reach a whole wider range of audience. And we use a platform to measure all that stuff so that we have a really good line of sight of how much content is being posted about us and then how much reach it actually has and how many people are actually having their eyeballs on our content.

Luke Peters: Awesome. Okay, so hopefully we’re providing some valuable content here for you guys, the listeners. And so at this point, we’ve had some collaborations. We’re getting images created out of this. These images can be used on our product pages. They can be distributed out to our network of retailers that we’re partnering with that are selling the products.

Luke Peters: And then I guess what I wanted to do to add maximum value here is also kind of loop in a little bit about our process on taking photographs. And I know this whole thing is changing quickly because a lot of it is just becoming 100% digital almost, at this point, from the factory level. But why don’t you just walk us through a little bit about that pro? I know there’s a lot of things that have happened where we’ve worked with different photographers to get just the right quality images and some of the value adds that you’re putting into these images.

Luke Peters: Because I think that, combined with this Instagram content, will give listeners a good understanding of the potential out there for their brand.

Andrew S.: Right. I mean, there’s a few different pieces to it. And so I think the approach we take for any of our product launches and our new products that we’re about to launch, with photography and the different types of assets we create for our product listing is that we want to surround the consumer with visual assets that will help kind of answer all the questions they’re thinking about as they’re going through their purchase decision.

Andrew S.: So there’s always, of course, every platform you’re on, whether it’s Home Depot or Walmart or Wayfair or any online retailer or Amazon, obviously every product needs a hero shot. And so as a baseline for us, our bar is that every single product has to have the best-looking photo you can get.

Andrew S.: And so we work with a specific photographer. We have an in-house studio where we do all of our photography, and we make sure that we’re getting the best-looking shot out there. And I think you touched on this, but a lot of… if you put your consumer hat on and you go look through Amazon and our other channels, a lot of brands are using 3D-generated imagery that always, like, obviously perfect.

Andrew S.: And for us it was really important that we actually used our products in the shots. And so we can honestly say that that’s our product. That’s our shot. And the photographer taking it is unbelievable. I think one shot, that hero shot we take, I think there’s like five different angles that we stitched together to make that one photograph, and it looks spectacular. It looks like a 3D render, but it’s not.

Luke Peters: Yeah, the image quality’s unbelievable. And I used to do it back in the day. I was doing our own images, and I’m happy I don’t have that job anymore.

Andrew S.: Yeah. It’s not easy.

Luke Peters: No. It’s so hard with the stainless steel, with the glass, with the reflections. Yeah. Amateur hour wasn’t working for me. So. But it’s funny, ’cause as you were saying that, I was going to say, I was going to get a little… I sure would’ve drawn a laugh from you, but our favorite word or favorite phrase is “best in class.” Everything’s got “best-in-class.”

Luke Peters: So, okay, great. So we have the images. Talk a little bit about the value adds and how you come to that. So the value adds meaning, obviously we got the white background images, but you may want… if you can go through the different types of images that a brand owner or marketing or sales executive might want to think about with their brand.

Andrew S.: Yeah, for sure. So every one of our product launches kind of follows the same formula. So we have obviously one or two standard hero shots, which are, like you said, just your standard, your really great-looking product shot, white background, cropped properly and everything else.

Andrew S.: And then, when you get in a little bit deeper in our product listings, we have kind of a series of different images that we create. So we have a features image that basically gives you… And we use, again, it’s really important that we show a part of the product in that image, but then we use text with it as well to help support that. So we blend in the lit text plus iconography. So, really, that’s all about, What are the top three features you want to tell someone about for that product?

Andrew S.: And, of course, more details are in the product descriptions, but these are just quick visual representations using an icon and a bit of text, just to help someone understand the key things they’d need to know about it.

Andrew S.: And then the second image we do is more of a benefits-based image. So that’s, again, using more text. We call it our checklist image because it has little check marks to basically say, “Here’s the three benefits of this product that you’d want to know about.” So it gets down to, you know, “Our fridge gets down to an icy, cold 34 degrees that no one else’s fridge can get down to.” You know, and things like that. So those would be two other images we create in addition to the hero shots.

Andrew S.: And then we create some other standard shots, which would be, you know, your dimensions photos. So obviously someone’s, if they’re doing a built-in wine fridge for their kitchen, it’s really important that they know how wide is the fridge, will it fit within a certain countertop height or width. So that baseline photo’s put in.

Andrew S.: And then we do some other lifestyle-based imagery. So that’s where we’ll take, back to your point around creating user-generated content, we’ll use maybe one of our user-generated content photos as well and then include it in there to show how someone else has used our product in their situation or their home and can show how beautiful it can be. So it’s more of an aspirational type of approach.

Luke Peters: That’s perfect. So hopefully everybody can kind of understand a clear view of how we’re putting the product together and thinking about the product from conception to actually launching that sku.

Luke Peters: One thing I wanted to add, just kind of what Andrew touched on, was about adding words into the image. And I know this is done quite a bit now, but really doing it right and thinking about that. The consumer doesn’t always want to read text. Sometimes they want to look at an image, and that’s your opportunity to put in those key decision-making points right there for that consumer, so that they understand everything that product can do for them. I find that to be super important.

Luke Peters: And we’ve seen that specifically on some product launches, where putting in the right image, and we almost can kind of AB test it because a similar product that doesn’t have maybe that benefit or feature doesn’t get the same sales lift. And so, I know Andrew and team have put a lot of thought into that. Why don’t you talk a little bit about within your team or within the company, what type of conversation has to go on when a product is launched and you’re thinking about what those benefits or what the USP is going to be for that product?

Andrew S.: Yeah, no. We actually have a pretty defined process for that now, which has actually been really helpful for the team. So obviously creating all these assets internally is not a team of one. It’s you know, a team of many, working internally with our own team plus a bunch of external vendors that we work with in terms of photography or videography and all the other things that we create.

Andrew S.: So it’s really important that we set the direction properly for that product early on and make sure that everyone’s on the same page with respect to what’s the unique selling proposition for that product, what are the key features, what are all the little details that need to be known and ensure that we’re capturing them in all of the different assets that we’re creating.

Andrew S.: And that’s everything from the carton art work through the product manuals or the product descriptions through to all the great imagery and the value-add imagery that we create. There’s a lot that goes on.

Andrew S.: So we actually have… I believe it’s three meetings that we set up. So we call them, or jokingly called them our Dirty 30, because they’re 30-minute meetings. There’s three of them. And the first one is with myself and Murray, who leads our product marketing initiatives. So he’s the one that handles all of our product launches. And so what I do is, I meet with him, and I kind of set the direction for that product. And we sit down, and we go through all the different aspects of it. We literally have the product in front of us in the room and open up the doors and push all the buttons and go through it. And I sort of help explain and help him understand what are all the unique selling propositions for this product, and what’s going to make it different or better than what else is on the market?

Andrew S.: In that, we also go online, and we look at what our competitors are doing. So we do a bit of a competitive audit to see what reviews are like around similar products, what are customers saying about those other products or similar products we have in the market? And we’re looking for little insights around what’s working, what’s not working. And that’s what we help use to inform our marketing decisions.

Andrew S.: And then, once we have that first kind of what I call our Dirty 30 meeting, we have our second one, where Murray has it with the actual whole team. So that includes everyone who’s going to be handling product photography, videography, our designers, everyone’s in there, copywriter, and they all are briefed on that project based on all the stuff that I gave him in terms of the direction.

Andrew S.: And then they have a third meeting down the road. Once all the assets are created, we do a final team review, where we all sit down and go through all the assets that are created and make sure that it’s all consistent from start to finish.

Luke Peters: So you turned it into a science, and I’m guessing that comes from your agency background and all the experience doing that.

Andrew S.: Or working with you.

Luke Peters: Or that. Awesome. So, okay, so now, so we’ve talked about the process. You have all the images, they’re all done. But you also kind of have, you know, you can have some images from social media, you’re going to have some Instagram images from influencers. So talk about how and where on the web you can use the different images besides just our website and even our partner’s websites. What other options and configurations have you thought about and used?

Andrew S.: Yeah, for sure. So getting, you know, really authentic user-generated content’s really important for us, and it’s actually part of our strategy in terms of part of our product launches in that we’re actually working with influencers earlier on. Sometimes even before we even got the product into our warehouse where we’re shipping them pre-samples of our product and getting them to create content for us about that product.

Andrew S.: And so the best part about that is that we then syndicate that content through all of our channels. So if you look at some other brands, there’s other brands that, a lot of the bigger brands are actually starting to put this into their strategy in terms of, creating user-generated content is a really important part of what they’re doing.

Andrew S.: So if you go to living spaces.com, the furniture store, almost every product they have on their page, they have a piece of user-generated content that someone has created and submitted to them that they’ve posted because they want to show how that product can fit into someone else lives without them having to say it.

Andrew S.: And so that’s kind of the same approach we took, and that’s what we do. So we basically get, we have a central repository with all of our user-generated content, and that’s what we use to pull from. So for a certain product, we can go in and say, “Okay, here’s 10 pieces of user-generated content. Let’s post a couple of these on our website with the product listing so we can show how someone’s using the product. Let’s take maybe these other ones.”

Andrew S.: And we’ll use them in an email marketing campaign, we might use them for Pinterest or our Instagram. A lot of our interests in Instagram account now is mostly actually just all user-generated content. It’s not even us creating content anymore because we’re getting so much of it. But it’s really important, because obviously there’s a cost involved in creating this content. Even if you’re getting it free from an influencer, there’s still a cost to giving them the product and shipping it to them and all that stuff that happens. But it’s an invaluable because you’re getting really great content that someone else has created for you.

Luke Peters: Awesome. Okay, that’s super helpful. That kind of ties it all together, gives the listener an idea of, start to finish, what they can do with their content. And before we finish out this podcast, I just wanted to mention that this podcast is sponsored by Retail Band. Retail Band isn’t a distributor, we’re not an agency, we’re just purely awesome.

Luke Peters: And to give you an idea of what we do at Retail Band, talking about images right now, Amazon is kind of easy, because everybody understands what happens on Amazon. But with Home Depot, Lowe’s, Wayfair, and everybody else has their own way of running the website and their back-end platforms and literally the SEO per each website. And there’s different rules about how images can be used on the site, what types of backgrounds you can use, what the number two image should be, but then also what hacks you could do to improve your product ranking, your product listing, and how it markets and looks forward-facing to the end consumer.

Luke Peters: So in Retail Band, we’re experts in all of these areas and more, but I think it ties in good to this podcast. So just wanted to give that explanation about what Retail Band does. And you can learn more at retailband.com.

Luke Peters: And I guess to kind of finish it up here, Andrew, oh, I want to put you on the spot here. So I’m going to ask you, so we’re talking about… you actually brought up a really nice brand, though, with Living Spaces and kind of what they do. What is a brand in our space or not in our space that you kind of look to for inspiration?

Andrew S.: Oh, wow, good question.

Luke Peters: Tough one. I had the advantage of writing mine down in advance.

Andrew S.: You did. No, I mean, obviously there’s a lot of brands in different sizes and forms doing really great stuff online. And so, you know, for us it’s important that we’re looking within our category and then, also, what are people doing outside of our category for additional inspiration?

Andrew S.: So, I’d say in our category, maybe not directly in our category, but I love Traeger. Traeger’s doing amazing stuff on the website. They have amazing content, visuals are beautiful. Yeah, they’ve got some really nice stuff. So we kind of use them. Yeti. Again, when you think about Yeti products, it’s an insulated box, kind of like our stuff. It’s an insulated box with a compressor. So how do you sell that?

Andrew S.: And so, when you look at their stuff, I mean, they’re very focused on selling. It’s a lifestyle. I mean, that’s what they’re selling. So other than that, they’re just a box that’s insulated and keeps your drinks cold.

Luke Peters: And costs a lot.

Andrew S.: And costs a lot.

Luke Peters: Yeah.

Andrew S.: You’re paying for the lifestyle.

Luke Peters: Yeah.

Andrew S.: Like Traeger. Traeger’s expensive too, but that’s what you pay for. I mean, these guys are all like the Starbucks of their categories. And so those are the guys we look to for inspiration for some of our stuff.

Andrew S.: And, you know, I think the one thing that I love about us and our team is that there’s kind of no ego about this stuff. We’re continually looking to see who’s doing something differently or better and then how can we maybe adapt that for what we’re doing.

Luke Peters: Cool. Those are great, great options right there. Great brands, great companies.

Luke Peters: I was going to bring up, from the very beginning, I’ve liked Vernetto. They’re just, you know, it’s a heating company. We’ve run into them a lot. We’ve looked at them. They have a beautiful website. They’re different than us in kind of the ways they do things. And even their website, just because it’s international, it’s got a couple of extra clicks until you kind of get into it. But the way that they market and really, really focusing on the product with all the visuals is pretty awesome.

Luke Peters: So all three of those brands tie in really nice to this podcast when we’re talking about photos, content, influencer marketing, and that’s awesome. This has been a great interview, and I kind of just wanted to end it with, if you could sum up maybe a starting point for another brand? So another brand’s listening to this, but they don’t really know where to start. Maybe they’re just shipping their products out, but they don’t really have a team built around it. I don’t know, it’s a tough position to be in. Do you have any suggestions on where somebody could get started there?

Andrew S.: Yeah. Obviously, I think it needs to start at the base or the core, which is just having even just some really good basic product shots. And it can be a little bit more expensive, but it’s worth it because it’s going to help with your conversion rates online. So I’d say start by investing in either an internal photographer or an external photographer and someone you can either, they can take the products to their studio or build a little studio at your office and buy some lighting, and for a couple thousand bucks, you can have a pretty good studio where you’re taking some really great photography.

Andrew S.: And just start with just the core product, and get some really good hero shots. And then you can use that. I mean, that’s what we use for our value-add imagery and our checklist imageries, the same shot. It’s just, we just add some text around it and some icons, and it’s the same imagery over and over again.

Andrew S.: So I would start there, with just getting an, even externally, get a vendor to help do your photography for you and make sure they… look at their portfolio, obviously, first to see what quality work they do. And I think you touched on this earlier, a lot of these products, especially ours, are shiny, very shiny. You get stainless steel, glass. Air fryers are notoriously almost impossible. I’ve had photographers actually send them back to us and say they can’t do it.

Andrew S.: So almost give someone a test, and give them your hardest product to shoot, and if they can shoot that well, they’ll do anything well.

Luke Peters: Great feedback, and it’s been awesome doing our podcast here and talking about these things. Even though we work together, we’re not always kind of talking about these types of ways of thinking about the process, so thanks for that, Andrew, and good day.

Andrew S.: Yeah. Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it, and looking forward to hearing the podcast.

Luke Peters: Awesome.

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