You’ve seen them out there—the disruptive brands that have figured out the web, nailed the tone for their audience, and are working their hardest to meet consumers when it’s most convenient for them.

They’ve nailed digital, and everyone from startups to enterprise brands has something to learn about how they’ve cracked the market. While these brands have many pieces of advice to pass along, one main theme ran through them all—treat your customers like people.

“We were able to create customer relationships, not just transactions.” – Zach Jacobs, Director of Marketing at Mack Weldon

If you’re looking for more growth in any aspect of your business, from acquisition to brand awareness, experts from Mack Weldon, Quip and have advice for today’s digital landscape.

Really, truly, absolutely understand your CPAs.

One major thing that sets these disruptive brands apart from others is a deep knowledge of how all of their channels perform together, not just separately.

Adam Lovallo, Co-Founder & Editor at, has great advice for brands regarding the difference between measuring your cost per acquisition (CPA) both overall and by separate channel:

“Honestly, I think understanding the relationship between what you consider to be paid CPAs and blended CPAs and what the holistic impact is, is central to being able to scale.”

He cited an example where a colleague was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars through a specific social channel and assuming that a four-times return on ad spend (ROAS) wasn’t good in comparison to others in the industry,

“I was like whoa, hold on, first of all that’s very good, and if you looked at it in aggregate, his blended CPA was way low. Obviously there’s a relationship between what you’re doing in all of these channels, and the people that have scaled understood that relationship.

If you hold yourself to a specific CPA, it won’t scale. It just doesn’t happen. If you can start with the overall impact, that’s when you supernova.”

Figure out the role of your content strategy early.

Understanding your CPA is the first step, but in order to really be successful, you have to tie your digital efforts to a solid content strategy.

Zach Jacobs, Director of Digital Marketing at Mack Weldon, discusses the relationship between the customer journey and content.

“I think what’s really important to figure out is your content strategy. The worst thing some new brands do is get a couple of articles or some publicity, use them to drive people to the homepage, see them make a purchase.

Then they model out that conversion rate and apply it to other paid channels thinking ‘we’re going to make a million dollars with this’.”

He gave an example where someone’s traffic is directed to an article about a brand—an article written specifically to pre-qualify them as an interested party—then maybe 15 percent of that traffic lands on your homepage, and 2.5 percent of them make a purchase.

If you’re not qualifying them first, you’ll attract a lot of useless traffic.

“My suggestion would be to think about it like this if you’re sending traffic to a homepage or product page—think about a landing page that qualifies people. Try to create a really great content strategy so when you do amp up, you’re spending smartly.”

PR isn’t always the answer.

When asked about the relationship with agencies and vendors, Shane Pittson, Head of Marketing at Quip, founded to prove that good design would have a bigger impact on oral health than quick fix gimmicks, reminded brands that the traditional path, like public relations (PR) doesn’t always hit the mark.

Early on, he described the camps of direct response advertising and brand awareness as a false dichotomy for ecommerce brands:

“When we were a few months post-launch, we were blasted by investors when we said we were going to invest heavily in Facebook. They said no no no, just do PR, people don’t even know who you are yet, just invest heavily in PR and…member referrals and just really nurture the cheaper free things until people know who you are.

Luckily we didn’t listen. We focused on Facebook and a lot of our major press and editorial pieces came from journalists and editors seeing very direct response ads, they were retargeted and saw us in all of those online spaces.”

Brand awareness or acquisition? Instead, do a conversion lift study.

As a part of that same conversation, these disruptive brands had even more to say about the relationship between the measurability of conversions and the power of brand awareness.

Sometimes, this tension shows internally when it comes to content for Mack Weldon.

“For example, you’re trying to create content to convert, and then a brand person comes into the room and tells you that you have to say it this way or that way, or that there’s too many CTAs,” Jacobs said.

“We have to compromise, sit around the room and figure out what’s the point of this content. Are we trying to tell people about ourselves, make ourselves feel good or are we trying to get customers?”

The beauty of direct response is often that disruptive brands build their brand through direct advertising—the two aren’t at odds.

“One idea that has become interesting to me across all channels is the conversion lift study. It’s becoming more and more common and you can kind of do it on your own,” Lovallo said.

“And I see some of the people we work with who think in those terms. Maybe it starts as a more branded campaign, but there’s some sort of conversion lift in a control group that shows it’s working. That’s why I like Taboola because if 1% of people convert on Mack Weldon but 80% of the people read about why Mack Weldon is cool, there’s probably some value that you’re not capturing via a pixel.”

Test new channels smartly, not expensively.

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Most new brands allocate a certain amount for testing new channels, and in the case of these three brands, they’re constantly testing—smartly.

“When you’re spending a certain amount on tests, you know some won’t work out and you do the best you can to vet those vendors,” Pittson said.

“For us it was constant testing. We’re trying our best to follow an 80/20 rule—spend 20% on new channels and new things and 80% on the channels you’ve figured out.”

Some of the channels might surprise you. In some cases, these new disruptive brands have found success with strategies that many would have assumed to be outdated.

“I’ve closed the door on a lot of things I think wouldn’t work,” Jacobs said. “My grandma once asked me why we don’t send out catalogues. I told her grandma, that won’t work. Last quarter we sent out catalogues and they performed great.”

Bonus: this is the biggest mistake you can make.

Maybe it seems obvious, but it’s a common problem for brands to over-project their ROAS and lifetime value (LTV) from digital acquisition and sink your business.

“When I was at LivingSocial, every month we would do a forward looking LTV projection—one or two years value. So we had these forward looking projections and then we’d optimize against those—very helpful, predictive analytics. Every quarter we would then back-test our model. Every single time we had overestimated and our model was too high.

I think the biggest mistake is not having a sense of those predictive LTV, or are you banking on more than is the reality? Because that can kill you.”

These insights were presented by Adam, Shane and Zach at Taboola’s most recent event, Enabling Small Businesses—The Power of Disruption. Mack Weldon, Quip and are all Taboola partners.

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