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Case Story: Rosetta Stone Tackles A New Market with Native Commerce

Case Story: Rosetta Stone Tackles A New Market with Native Commerce

Native commerce offers brands of all sizes an amazing opportunity to grow revenues, enter new markets, and of course, gain invaluable brand equity. Although we often tout the success of niche brands working with our platform, we’ve also seen first-hand the significant role native commerce can play for large national brands like Rosetta Stone. Today, we’re here to share that story.

You’re most likely no stranger to the fact that Rosetta Stone is a household name when it comes to learning new languages in the digital age. But long before the mobile revolution, Rosetta Stone got its start selling CD-ROM software. Eager wanderlusts and budding linguists alike dove into hours of innovative learning lessons that looked unlike any high school Spanish class, and Rosetta Stone quickly became America’s leading language learning software.

The Digital Age Challenge  

As technology quickly evolved, once cutting-edge CD-ROMs became less and less relevant and Rosetta Stone adapted by offering its digital experience via the cloud. As with any drastic product change, this posed the massive challenge of getting their message out to a totally new, younger, and mobile-centric audience. And with shipping challenges eliminated, there was a fantastic opportunity to break into the international market.

Rosetta Stone partnered with StackCommerce with hopes of tackling these challenges through exposure across our vast publisher network. The first step was constructing a robust marketing strategy that spoke to both Rosetta Stone’s core brand message and the wide array of publisher audiences that would be engaging with the content.

By taking into account demographic, interests, and price point, StackCommerce targeted readers who would connect to the Rosetta Stone story, but may not have fit the profile of the typical Rosetta Stone customer.

The Power of Native Commerce Distribution

From Boing Boing to The Daily Dot to Gothamist, publishers from across the network posted a total of over 65 pieces of written native content based around Rosetta Stone, allowing them to successfully reach their targeted demographics in a natural way. Apart from the obvious brand exposure element, the campaign resulted in over 1,200 units sold and 96,000 sessions on their deal page across over 175 white-labeled publisher shops.

“We are delighted to be partnering with StackCommerce as they’ve been able to successfully help us reach a totally different customer, one who might not have looked for us in our traditional channels. The opportunities with StackCommerce not only helped us enter new markets, but enter new markets faster,” noted Mike Fishaw, North American Director of Sales.

For national brands like Rosetta Stone, the native commerce model aligns perfectly with lofty expansion goals and product launches — proving that sometimes impressive gains come from looking outside the comfort zone of traditional marketing channels. Sharing authentic, engaging brand content across publishers that people know and trust is a great place to start.

3 Ways for Brands to Get the Most Out of Native Commerce

3 Ways for Brands to Get the Most Out of Native Commerce

The elusive black box of marketing plagues brands of all shapes and sizes. No one enjoys spending money on advertising and customer acquisition without knowing the ROI ahead of time. Yet, many agencies require steep introduction fees to establish relationships.

That’s what makes working with StackCommerce so unique. Whether your brand is new-to-market or well-established, you’ll have your choice of multiple pay-for-play solutions for customer acquisition, brand awareness, and revenue growth without paying upfront fees.

Here are some of the ways your brand can quickly expand its digital reach:

#1 Advertorial Content, Exclusive Offers & The Art of Storytelling

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It’s no secret that entering the native advertising playground can be extremely pricey. In fact, digital advertisers are forecasted to spend $28.2 billion on native advertising by 2018 according to eMarketer. However, unlike traditional native ad or sponsored content media buying, StackCommerce allows brands to get maximum brand exposure without any of the upfront costs.

With consultation from our merchandising team, our brand partners curate promotions or CPA offers that are exclusive and newsworthy, giving our network of publishers an opportunity to design authentic content that engages their readers. These brand stories are specifically created to add rather than distract from the reader’s’ experience. The result? The publisher, the reader, and the brand win.

While exposure on publishers like AOL, Gothamist, Digg, and The Daily Dot can often be purchased on a CPM basis, we offer this to brands free of charge as part of our structured promotion. The benefits of brand exposure are obvious for new-to-market brands, but even well-established brands can utilize StackCommerce’s content creation abilities to strategically enter new markets and reach new audiences.

For example, leading national language software company Rosetta Stone used StackCommerce’s platform to break into a new younger and mobile-centric market. With over 65 editorial pieces published across the network and over 96,000 eyes on their product, Rosetta Stone successfully created a presence amongst a brand new audience through engaging content. “We are delighted to be partnering with StackCommerce as they help us reach a different customer, who might not have looked for us in our traditional channels,” noted Mike Fishaw, North American Director of Sales.

#2 Handcrafted, Custom Email Placement

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Email placement is another great way to accelerate your brand exposure. Featuring your brand’s logo, image, or full product line in a dedicated email send is one option available to all brand partners. Our in-house creative team is available to create custom emails to showcase your brand or product line specifically for your targeted market. We segment our email list of over 3 million subscribers to deliver increased value and drive engagement. We always tailor our sends to be 100% unique, and customized quotes are available upon request.

#3 Accelerated Dollar-for-Dollar Ad Spend Matching

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We’ve discussed the power of native content when posted by influential online publishers, but what happens next? Does the content simply disappear forever? StackCommerce’s Amplify program allows brands to double down on their content strategy by attracting more eyes to their brand via social media. The Amplify program is consistent with our commitment to eliminate the black box of unknown fees and unclear ROI. Matching ad spend dollar-for-dollar, we are able to scale targeted, strategic Facebook Ad Campaigns with up to 6x return on ad spend (ROAS). With innovative methods to  showcase content as ads, we are blazing a path for social commerce at scale.

Before we even pitch our brand partners on the Amplify program, we put our money where our mouth is and build a proof of concept ourselves. StackCommerce takes on the full risk during an initial trial period, meaning we only offer this program to a select few brand partners who have already been shown to benefit concretely with actual data. With agency to generate custom, flexible solutions, we are able to drive value and deliver results, without compromising brand integrity.

Amazon and the ‘Company Culture’ Controversy: Why it Matters to Startups

Amazon and the ‘Company Culture’ Controversy: Why it Matters to Startups

Last week’s New York Times article about Amazon’s cutthroat company culture has sparked a wildfire of debate over just exactly what 2015’s biggest corporate buzz-term consists of. As the discussion expands to the impact of company culture on employees and the businesses they populate on the whole, renewed attention is being drawn to perhaps the most grueling and demanding professional climate of all: the startup world.

Amazon founder & CEO Jeff Bezos is the fifth-richest man in the world. His methodology in getting very most out of every employee, to ensure the velocity of his company’s success, has paid off: Amazon recently became the country’s largest retailer. Their reputation for hard-working employees precedes the NYT piece, but the article outlined the harsh intensity of Amazon’s operations in embarrassing detail: email attentiveness at all hours is required. Vacations are a myth, and weekends exist only as mile markers on the path to success – by no means a time to downshift. If you aren’t working all the time, you’re failing. Amazon’s ranking system regularly purges the low performers, but also factors in how well employees interact. Their employees are reportedly encouraged to send negative feedback about their peers to their bosses, a confidential exchange that pits staff members against one another and creates an air of paranoid hostility.

The list goes on. Amid the flurry of criticism, Bezos and others at Amazon have challenged the spin and professionalism of both the report and the NYT reporters. A Bezos memo to employees following the piece has made the rounds, clearly PR bait: the CEO said he wouldn’t tolerate a “callous” working environment, and doesn’t believe one exists at Amazon. In tandem, Amazon employee Nick Ciubotariu published his own defense of his employer as well as a few shots at the NYT article, summarizing the NYT approach as a preconceived hit job against the company.

To Bezos and Ciubotariu’s credit, in a company with so many employees, it is statistically guaranteed that many heartwarming examples of fantastic company-culture experiences can be found within Amazon’s corporate narrative. But to find over 100 employees willing to share tales of woe is uncommon, particularly given that the sample group consists of members of the leadership team, human resources executives, marketers, retail specialists and engineers who worked on projects from the Kindle to grocery delivery to the recent mobile phone launch.

Similarly, startup culture is cutthroat, take-no-prisoners and absolutely hostile to the idea of shared priorities. As a rule, startups do not foster an environment conducive to healthy families, well-rounded childhoods or “quality” personal time. Free food, team games, onsite barbers and other benefits often exist in companies large and small to allow people a break without leaving the office, softening the impact of those grueling 60-to-80 hour work weeks.

Ideal company culture demands a balance between pushing employees to go above and beyond, and allowing a personal sense of worth and vitality within the corporate structure. A company set on long-term development and success requires leadership who can fully understand and pass along its corporate atmosphere and philosophy to other employees. To accomplish this they must be engaging, inspiring and above all, willing to work harder than anyone else.

With 150,000 people on staff, Amazon boasts an army of people mandated to devote their life to their work. Is total sacrifice of personal life on a company-wide scale the most desirable model for success? For those whose life priorities aren’t inextricably topped by fealty to a corporate success story in the making, absolutely not. So where is the middleground? How can a balance be struck while a company struggles to emerge as a leader in its field?

A frequently cited example of great company culture is Google. With an employee count nearing 50,000, it’s remarkable and refreshing to see workers describe operations as having a small-company feel, free of senior-officer intimidation. Company culture is determined by company morality, how it treats others, and there is a direct result in staff morale & motivation. Googlers can be found volunteering directly in company efforts to give back to the community, and lead initiatives around the world with financial aid, restoring public parks and  beyond.

At StackCommerce, we’re striving each day to sharpen the balance between driving success and enriching staff. There’s rarely an amenity unprovided, with the office boasting a stocked kitchen, surfboards and bikes at the ready (the Venice Beach boardwalk is just outside our door), a ping pong table and entertainment lounge in the basement (hell, even a basement in Southern California is a unicorn perk). But these are mere decorative boosts, a handful of bright colors on the tapestry of a company culture that encourages personal wellness through yoga breaks and volleyball games, through enlightening guest speakers and regular happy hour gatherings. Robust benefits, sign-on stock options and encouraged use of personal days provide employees with a sense of security and control over their personal lives – an extreme rarity in startup culture.

Sure, we work our behinds off, often arriving long before the workday begins and leaving long after rush hour has subsided. But those of us making the early-morning rounds are often greeted by wetsuit-clad employees greeting the day with enthusiasm; they want to be here early. They’re invested in a company that’s equally invested in them.

The link between employee happiness and productivity has been documented at great length. Companies cannot thrive on a singular character model of A-type workhorses giving their every waking moment to their employer, with reckless abandon of personal stability. Diversification is essential, creating constellations of different skill sets and different opinions to stay innovative and to continually thrive. Personal and professional values are essential, but this does not mean absolute sacrifice at all times. Company culture must align with personal stability, particularly in the startup world.

Entrepreneur.com‘s Eric Sinou put together a great infographic on the impact of company culture, as well as the perils of being on the wrong side of a corporate atmosphere:

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E-Commerce Celebrity Endorsements: Big Exposure, Bigger Risk

E-Commerce Celebrity Endorsements: Big Exposure, Bigger Risk

Anyone caught in the pre-millennial pop culture current will easily recall Pepsi’s 1992 Super Bowl commercial, in which Cindy Crawford climbs out of a Lamborghini in a pair of daisy dukes, heads to a soda machine and pulls out the world’s first look at the hotly-anticipated new Pepsi can. The moment was iconic: the most adored model in the world, drinking a Pepsi from a newly designed futuristic-looking can as if it were an intensely sensual experience.

Pepsi needed an edge over Coca-Cola, and for a shining moment in early ’92, they accomplished it with the perfect storm of a celebrity endorsement through Ms. Crawford, a brand re-skin and a cultural centerpiece launchpad (the Super Bowl).

 

The e-commerce world has seen a wildfire rise in the number of successful companies taking root over the last three years. Without in-store distribution, however, brand exposure is limited to the digital world, resulting in a vital need for innovative marketing campaigns, third-party promotions and endorsements by established public figures. Competition is ferocious in this wild new frontier, and a number of efforts are now underway to promote brands with celebrity endorsements – with good reason. The top tweeters are almost all celebrities: 43 of the top 50 most-followed accounts are either musicians or sports stars.

The numbers certainly support Pando’s belief that celebrities will drive the next wave of E-Commerce startups, but what about when it goes wrong? There could be no better example than entrepreneur and self-declared billionaire Donald Trump, whose incendiary remarks on immigration and hispanics have resulted in a severe backlash for the 2016 Republican presidential candidate. In the past two weeks, Trump’s partnerships and endorsements are evaporating like a puddle in the Sahara, and he’s been dumped by NASCAR, NBCUniversal, Macy’s, Univision, Televisa, Farouk Systems, PGA, apparel manufacturer Phillips-Van Huesen and more. NBC won’t broadcast Miss Universe or Miss USA (the network and Trump co-own the beauty pageants), and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio instructed his office to review existing contracts with the Trump Organization, who currently provides concessions to city facilities.

While the advertising community watches with car-crash fascination, Trump has doubled down on his remarks, and will continue to slide further and further into untouchable status by brands. The takeaway: be very careful who you do business with, and be highly wary of anyone who would serve as the face of your brand. To embrace a volatile personality with a powerful public presence is to endorse their behavior through the cultural lens.

With celebrity endorsements on the rise in e-commerce, the image of businesses hang in the balance of what are potentially volatile personalities in the public eye. The risk is rationalized through exposure, and when an endorsing celebrity finds themselves in the TMZ spotlight, companies that have contracts with them often re-examine the relationship. Often times, immediate damage control becomes necessary, such as the case with Trump. Companies often immediately sever ties, putting distance between the endorser and themselves as quickly as possible.

Building on that idea, I’ve broken down seven of the most high-profile cases of celebrity endorsements gone awry, with their accompanying rationale.

Lance Armstrong

Armstrong was an untouchable hero in the biking world at the turn of the century, but he was forced to relinquish his 1999-2005 Tour de France titles after news broke about his doping scandal. He stepped down as chairman of Livestrong, a cancer-fighting charity he founded, but that was just the beginning of his problems, which amounted to over $150 million in lost endorsements and effectively ruined his own brand. Nike and Anheuser-Busch dropped Armstrong but remained supporters of Livestrong, but after Nike dropped him, so did Annheuser-Busch, Trek Bicycle Corp, FRS and Honey Stinger.

Michael Phelps

The most decorated Olympian of all time won eight gold medals at the 2008 summer Olympics, guaranteeing the young man a golden-paved future of endorsements and sponsorships, even if he never swam again. But in early 2009, a photo depicting Phelps smoking from a bong sent brands scurrying. Cereal giant Kellogs parted ways with the athlete within a week, insisting that Phelps’ behavior did not align with its views, and sandwich maker Subway distanced themselves as well.

Tiger Woods

Once the most celebrated golfer in the world, Tiger woods lost roughly $22 million in endorsements back in 201 after news broke of his multiple extramarital affairs. Gatorade, AT&T, Gillette, EA Sports, Buick and Accenture all jumped ship. Woods’ public image never fully recovered, though he’s since seen a return to brand endorsements.

Ray Rice

Video footage of the Baltimore Ravens running back dragging his unconscious fiancé out of a casino elevator resulted in a firestorm of backlash, with Nike pulling endorsements, EA Sports erasing his presence from the Madden NFL 15 video game, Vertimax, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Modell’s and more. Rice reportedly has no remaining active endorsement deals, a devastating blow to the fallen sports hero.

Chris Brown

When the formerly clean-cut singer pleaded guilty to assaulting his then-girlfriend Rihanna before the 2009 Grammys, Wrigley dropped him as their spokesperson with impressive speed. His “Got Milk?” endorsement deal also went sour.

Jean-Claude Van Damme

The Muscles from Brussels was caught on camera (for a British reality show) complaining about shooting a commercial for Total Flex home gym equipment, insisting he didn’t want to endorse a product he didn’t like. After reportedly showing up on set without knowing his lines he quit the commercial, and was sued for breach of contract to the tune of $25.2 million.

Kate Moss

The cover girl and wife of The Kills rocker Jamie Hince was snapped doing lines of cocaine back in 2005, resulting in a media rush to dub her “Cocaine Kate”. Shortly thereafter, she lost massive endorsement deals from H&M, Chanel, Burberry and more. A turnaround resulted in recent years, after Moss went to rehab and polished her image (to an extent), returning to good graces with campaigns for Rimmel, Dior and Mango – she is now the third-highest paid model in the world.

Apple Music’s Flawed Flight: Burning Social Capital of a Prime Brand

Apple Music’s Flawed Flight: Burning Social Capital of a Prime Brand

We all want something to believe in, a secure standard to set our coordinates by in this ocean of digital chaos. Tech ultragiant Apple has served as a pillar of such standard and security for many years, building a $700 billion empire and a new age of digital culture through an ever-widening spectrum of devices, and an intuitive constellation of accessibility & usability. But now, with the breathlessly-hyped but deeply flawed launch of Apple Music as part of iOS 8.4 and iTunes 12.2, the hypercritical attention to user experience is lacking badly – and we’re reminded of the shifting sands of seamless brand domination in today’s marketplace, even for the largest company the United States has ever seen.

Steve Jobs made an enemy of confusion. His relentless quest to create the perfect user experience was legendary, and resulted in a new generation of devices and a tandem culture of tech obsession laced with an air of cosmopolitan, lightly-hedonistic elitism. So it is with great surprise and times-they-are-a-changin’ dismay that we navigate the labyrinthian wonder that is Apple Music after its kickoff this week, equally frustrated with its lack of intuitive functionality and clear rationale as we are dazzled by its promising features.

Jobs’ meticulous impact on every one of our lives shines clearly in the legacy he leaves behind, whether it be the larger consumer philosophy or the devices in our hands. But Apple’s slipping grace in his wake that speaks with no less color.

Whether they’re on team Mac or PC doesn’t matter – the connected world is universally fascinated by Apple’s new offering. Where Apple is failing isn’t in the rough edges in the early days of the Music service – it’s failing its own brand in ruining an unparalleled momentum of image in simplicity, efficiency and industry leadership.

Apple’s influence on the economy and culture around the world rivals some of the most powerful in all of human history – they will undoubtedly do just fine, whether Apple Music is an abject failure or not (it won’t be). But from a branding perspective, as well as that of a backlash impact, Apple Music serves an important lesson in consistency of Brand quality and user experience.

What’s going on here?

While I explored Apple Music’s offerings and established a functional interaction with it, the same thought kept creeping up: “Why do I need this? I’m happy with Spotify.” Apple Music has around 30 million songs, just as Spotify, Tidal and Google Play do.

A quick rundown of the mess: Apple Music isn’t a quick-access service. It comes as part of iOS 8.4 and iTunes 12.2, requiring a full update and many pages of new user agreements. Once you’re in, Apple Music plays your music, except you don’t own that music, and the options provided are a collaboration between your input and their guesstimation. Apple Radio plays songs they’ve chosen for you, like the radio does. Random buttons like heart icons and plus signs don’t have any prominently defined meaning, and once you’ve clicked them you can’t undo the selections. Home sharing has been removed, at least for the time being.

Apple built its reputation on the seamless user experience. But confusion abounds, and there are no guidepoints to help us along. Apple seems confused on how it categorizes its features, and its taste algorithms are quite strange. Two songs into a radio station tailored just for me and I’m fumbling frantically around for the mute button.

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There’s a disconnect here.

Where’s the walkthrough?

Why do I have to figure this thing out for myself? Where is the online tutorial, the clean interface to navigate with a constellatory guide? This is where the cracks in Apple’s veneer begin to truly show, and where the whispers of Steve return. Jobs would never have allowed a confusing creation of such magnitude; he understood the critical value of an inviting framework.

Beats 1: Incredible Concept, Floundering

The excited conversation taking place is almost entirely about Beats 1, not the on-demand streaming service. Though we’re excited for shows hosted by the likes of Queens Of The Stone Age nucleus Josh Homme, Pharrell Williams, Drake, Dr. Dre, Elton John and more… will a new broadcast curation be that big a player? It’s highly unlikely we’ll go back to the radio days – the wacky morning-zoo DJs have exterminated the public’s trust in drive-time radio.

Podcasts, however, are an incredible force (President Obama recently visited comedian Marc Maron’s WTF podcast for an impressively candid chat), and the vast majority are free. And if you missed a radio show by your favorite talent, you’re out of luck on a desktop. That is, unless you can find a way to tap on the Beats 1 Radio banner (NOT the “Listen Now” button prominently displayed), scroll down past Upcoming Shows to Featured shows, find the show you’d like to hear from the entire list, then go to the show’s playlist page as a part of Connect.

Get all that? Sure, it’s a lot simpler on a mobile, but this needs to be universal. If you can get it to work at all on mobile, that is. Radio futurologist James Cridland reviewed Beats 1, and the industry expert is not impressed:

Apple have launched a live, linear radio station – something you’ll see in this presentation just doesn’t work on mobile phones. They’ve done the bare minimum in terms of integration. The radio producers have been lazy with their production. Tuning in is unintuitive on iOS, and was impossible on OSX at launch. The launch was botched, confused, lazy, uninspiring and most of all, deeply ignorant.

No Promo Blitz

Why isn’t U2 dancing around in a commercial? Ok, maybe U2 and Apple should take a break. But Josh Homme and Dr. Dre could serve as the new faces of Apple Music through an upper-echelon talent edge, leading us into culturally rich new waters as they welcome us in with their Beats 1 radio shows and a few informational suggestions. There is no promotional throwdown, however.

It’s a flash fad.

Fads die. Apple Music needs to establish a pioneering value, and fast. This has happened before, and very recently. Tidal is in a branding and staffing nosedive, after being breathlessly heralded by icons and idols as the greatest alternative to the current streaming market. Packed with superstars, Jay Z is sinking that ship on the wrong message and no value beyond the illusion of exclusives in an all-access world.

Apple Doesn’t Decide. The People Do.

We’ll see at the end of Q3 where Apple Music stands, as the majority who’ve opted for the three-month trial will then decide whether or not to subscribe.

Spotify remains, however. And while we struggle with DRM hysteria, Apple Match issues, downloading massive system updates and more, that ugly green logo is waiting, still allowing you to import your iTunes library upon launch. You can’t import Spotify playlists into Apple Music, by the way.

Seems like a hostile way for a brand to create a universal experience.

Case Study: Cult of Mac

Case Study: Cult of Mac

Leading Apple news site Cult of Mac started integrating Native Commerce into their web presence in early 2012 after experimenting with other ways to augment their existing advertising revenue. Cult of Mac saw immediate results and continues to drive significant revenue and growth through commerce.


Revenue

  • Before integrating with StackCommerce’s native commerce platform, Cult of Mac was using an affiliate platform to offer their users a commerce experience.
  • Cult of Mac generated 10 times as much revenue in the first month with StackCommerce as it did using the affiliate program.
  • Cult of Mac now makes about 100x that amount every month.
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Email

  • Before integrating with StackCommerce, Cult of Mac didn’t have an email list.
  • In the first six months, we created and grew that list to 32,000 subscribers.
  • Cult of Mac now has over 90,000 active email subscribers.
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Social Media

  • Before integrating with StackCommerce, Cult of Mac had roughly 100,000 followers on social media.
  • In the first year, the audience grew to over 500,000 followers.
  • Cult of Mac now has over 750,000 social followers.
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