2016 marked a transformative year for publisher monetization. Facebook’s algorithm shift was a lesson in ‘expecting the unexpected’, and The New York Times’ acquisition of The Wirecutter a lesson in ‘doing as the giants do’. The decline of traditional display ads continued steadily, and the rise of native advertising content accelerated above and beyond predictions.
We’re proud to be at the forefront of this evolutionary time, and excited to see what 2017 will have in store. To celebrate the end of a year marked by spectacular native content, we’re sharing 5 incredible stories from our publisher partners.
This deep dive into VPN usage delivers an informative look at the increasing importance of these protective services. From how a VPN actually works to how to choose the right VPN for your online habits, this article successfully delivered an important message to their readers at a highly relevant moment in digital security.
Content, of course, is not limited to words and punctuation, and the Daily Dot proved the unbridled potential for Facebook video as a medium for publisher monetization in 2016. This “snackable” video showcasing the use of a retro-style rubber band gun has drawn over 2 million views, proving one should never underestimate the appeal of an old fashion office rubber band fight.
With an influx of dashcam footage surfacing in the mainstream media, AOL tapped into this growing trend with a piece centered around practical use cases of a dashcam. From recording fender benders in the parking lot to fighting insurance fraud, this article speaks to even the least tech-savvy of drivers.
Digg successfully mastered the art of the listicle with its unique holiday ode to the stocking stuffer. A much needed breath of fresh air from the typical gift guide, this holiday roundup offered up Magnetic Space Putty and a Toilet Bowl Light as clever alternatives to the typical socks and dental floss.
In 2016, President Obama raised a glass of Pezo do Rei Ribeira Sacra, instantly popularizing this Spanish wine and its region of origin. This piece from the Huffington Post touches on the importance of a wine’s story (in addition to its taste) and introduces a wine club that’s out to do just that with every delivery.
Upselling or cross-selling customers with relevant products is about more than boosting revenues (although it does that, too). From the user’s point of view, it’s an effortless way to see complementary products without browsing aimlessly. When done properly, upsells can truly enhance the user experience, while simultaneously increasing average order value (AOV) and generating incremental “free” money that the company or publisher would otherwise miss out on. Everyone wins, right?
Unfortunately, not always. Some e-commerce sites make a habit out of constantly shoving upsells in the user’s face, taking away from the user experience and leaving customers with a sour taste in their mouths. Successful upsells start and end with a carefully thought out product selection, but they also require a tactful UX strategy. Bypass common mistakes and read on for my top 3 methods of flawlessly implementing upsells across your site.
Across StackCommerce’s 100+ publishers shops, users consistently spend the majority of time on product detail pages, and almost always, this is the first opportunity to provide an upsell to the user.
At this moment in the purchase lifecycle, offering a higher priced, upgraded model of the product at hand is beneficial for both user and seller. One strategy is to promote the cheaper version of a product and then provide options for the higher priced versions during the product selection process.
In the example above, the user is viewing the cheaper plan, but is also made aware that bigger discounts are available for longer subscriptions. The options are laid out clearly but not aggressively for the user, maintaining an overall positive user experience.
The shopping cart is another great place to offer upsells. A user with an item in-cart has already expressed an intent to buy, and if executed well, a cross-sell can provide a relevant addition to the user’s purchase. Buying a drone? Perhaps the user is interested in a crash pack. When testing cross-sells across the StackCommerce network, the team was shocked at the immediate success of this technique.
To date, this has been our most successful cross-sell placement, and we’re continually enhancing it with improved automated recommendation logic and updated visual layouts.
Note: the cross-sell item remains separated from items intentionally placed in the user’s cart to distinguish it as something different. As with the upsell strategy, the cross-sell recommendation can be easily ignored by the user and does not interrupt the purchase flow. We fixed it to the bottom of the cart nearest the Checkout button for optimal visibility.
Order Confirmation Page
The order confirmation page is one of the most underutilized pages in e-commerce. It’s typically the last page a user views and generally consists of nothing but a simple receipt.
One method for monetizing your order confirmation page is by cross-selling a relevant product with a limited-time discount applied. You may be surprised at how many people are willing to immediately make a second purchase right then and there.
By applying the user’s payment method, you can create a one-click checkout flow on the order confirmation page itself. We offer a selection of relevant products at a discount across the the top of each order confirmation page, all equipped with a seamless one-click checkout solution.
Upsells and Native Commerce
Unlike typical affiliate commerce which redirects customers to a third party e-commerce site and yields a portion of the profits, native commerce branded shops allow publishers to benefit from techniques usually reserved by the e-commerce sites themselves. Upsells and cross-sells are amazing examples of this. With StackCommerce’s platform, publishers are able to seamlessly offer relevant upsells to their readers and collect on an additional incremental revenue stream as a result.
Whether you’re a publisher or e-commerce site looking for new user-friendly ways to monetize, remember that upsells and cross-sells should be implemented tastefully, carefully, and with a UX state-of-mind.
Infographic: The Comical War of Black Friday Sales
What would you give to be an extra in Star Wars: Episode VII or “blow sh*t up” with Arnold Schwarzenegger? These once in a lifetime experiences are how local LA startup Omaze raises funds and awareness for the world’s best nonprofit organizations – and we were lucky enough to spend an hour with Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Matt Pohlson.
The Stack Speaker Series is a quarterly event here at StackCommerce, during which the team has the opportunity to pick the brains of amazing leaders, innovators, and angel investors in the Silicon Beach area. Read on for the the top 5 lessons we learned while lunching with Omaze Co-CEO, Matt Pohlson:
Experiment with multiple platforms
Like many startups, Omaze didn’t find its success right out of the gate. Their first campaign with the show “Cupcake Wars” didn’t yield the proceeds they had expected. So what turned the corner? Getting the word out in the right places. Facebook, radio, video, PR: all of these platforms proved essential for growth from that point forward.
Don’t underestimate the power of humor
Infusing humor into content, whether it be campaign videos or blog posts, is a great way to increase shareability and the chances of virality. The key: make consumers want to engage with your content – it goes a long way.
Don’t assume each audience is the same
At Omaze, each campaign beckons a distinct audience and strategy. For example: if you’re running a campaign targeted at gamers, try gamifying the entry process. Running a campaign with a TV show? Put resources into video content. Know your audience and speak their language.
If even a small part of you doesn’t feel a hire is right, chances are it won’t be. When it comes to the formative years of a startup, the team is everything.
Cultivate a growth mindset. Surround yourself with advisors and continue to learn and evolve with every challenge.
Thanks to the rise of e-commerce, epic, crack-of-dawn Black Friday lines are becoming a distant memory future generations may joke about. Today, email is king on the biggest shopping day of the year and as a retailer, it’s your most efficient way to target masses of deal-hungry customers.
At StackCommerce, we execute Black Friday and Cyber Monday campaigns for over 100 publisher shops, and have learned invaluable lessons from reaching out to a wide variety of audience types. Last year, Black Friday marked our biggest shopping day of the year but upon reflection and after diving into the data, it is clear that we can deliver even better results for our publisher and brand partners this time around. How? Check out 5 rules we live by while preparing our Black Friday email marketing strategy.
Be prepared and plan early
Everyone knows the saying, “the early bird gets the worm,” and it rings especially true in email marketing. There is nothing worse than preparing to leave the office on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving only to realize that you didn’t plan a promotion for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Let the scrambling begin.
That’s why it’s essential to start planning your calendar, promotions, and merchandising in advance. This allows for plenty of time to coordinate with all necessary teams, analyze previous promotions, set up campaigns, and ensure seamless execution.
Stand out from the crowd
E-commerce companies and retailers are all fighting to gain customer attention on Black Friday and throughout the holiday season. Remember, there’s a lot of noise in each and every customer inbox, and it’s your job to stand out from the crowd.
Here are a few tips:
Make your promotion pop, but keep your strategy simple and easy for customers to understand
Be aware of the competition, but don’t discount beyond what makes sense for your company
Create unique subject lines that won’t be overlooked by your lapsed or less-engaged customers
Target your customers when they’re most likely to open an email in order to hit the top of their inbox with personalized send time optimization
Grow your email list in advance
As you ramp up for the holiday season, you should also be thinking of unique ways to grow your email list. For example, try promoting a special giveaway to new audiences or partner with another company on a giveaway to expand your reach. Engaging in paid advertising across social channels like Facebook is another great way to beef up your list. Once Black Friday promotion begins, you’ll have a new, engaged audience to target.
Re-engage lapsed customers
Now is the time to win back segments of customers that have lost enthusiasm for your brand! In the months prior to Black Friday, start slowly integrating these customers back into email communications with a “win-back” series and weekly sends. This will help to protect your IP and unsubscribe rates during the holiday season.
If you continue to see a lack of engagement from these groups leading up to Black Friday, restrict the number of sends to just major Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. The key is to not forget about this group, but keep in mind that less is more!
Recommend products your customers will love
Black Friday is the perfect time to guide customers with targeted product recommendations and shopping guides. Integrate with a product recommendation tool like Jetlore or segment your customers based on purchase history to market relevant products. In addition, we suggest you set up an automated cart abandonment email with included product recommendations to double down on this strategy.
There’s so much detail that goes into each and every one of these tips, but the key is to keep them all in mind when launching your Black Friday strategy. Above all, be authentic to your brand and customers will continue to choose your emails and your site for their holiday shopping needs.
4 Leadership Lessons for Founders After Running a Startup for 5 Years
This time five years ago, I founded StackSocial, what is now StackCommerce. Each year for the past four years I’ve shared a few lessons (Year 1, Year 2, Year 3, Year 4) for other founders who are on the same arduous path. It’s been humbling, it’s been exhilarating, and I’ve grown in ways that I couldn’t have imagined. This year I’m back with 4 more leadership lessons I’ve learned over the past 12 months … perhaps the most important ones thus far.
Before I get to that, I want to give you a few highlights (#humblebrag) of my team over the past year.
5th Year Highlights:
Grew the team to 60+ people while remaining profitable (on just $800k of capital raised in 2012)
Built out an incredible management team with experience from companies including Google, Gilt, Fab, Headspace, and Pivotal Labs
Expanded into our 4th Vertical: 1. Tech, 2. Men’s Lifestyle, 3. Education, 4. Women’s Lifestyle … with plans for 5th.
Grew our user community by nearly 50% to over 3.5 million registered members
Adopted five insanely rad office dogs: Bill Murray, Kiley, Cowboy, Zooey, and Uni
But, beyond all of that, the biggest highlight over the past five years is that we’ve not only created a successful company, but also a culture, a family, and a movement. I couldn’t be more proud of the blood, sweat, and tears that this team has put forth to help better the lives of our vendors, publishers, and customers.
Now, as promised, here are 4 lessons learned over the past year:
1. Empathy is the most underrated virtue of leadership
Like many entrepreneurs, growing up in my 20’s I revered Steve Jobs. I admired his take no bullshit, take no excuses, accept nothing but the best, and demand perfection, slant on life. I expect it of myself and so, why shouldn’t I expect it of my team? Shoot for the moon and worst case you end up in the clouds, right? But, with people, that’s not always the case.
Perfection is a tough standard to meet.
Putting that standard on yourself is your right. It’s probably not a smart one in the long run, but if you want to live with high bouts of anxiety, tension, and stress in pursuit of your ultimate satisfaction — that’s your right. But to project that onto others in pursuit of perfection often times causes us to remove all sense of “understanding” of someone else’s circumstances. That lack of empathy can hurt. It can really alienate people in a way that you may not foresee.
I’ve had some major setbacks in my life and as painful as they were — they have been a great asset to me. They taught me how fragile the human spirit is and in those moments how much we all need comfort, understanding, and encouragement … not a hard-ass with unreasonable expectations. Finding an acceptable balance in the pursuit of greatness and empathy with yourself and your team will help you endure because, frankly, you are nowhere near as good as Steve Jobs, so stop trying to mimic something you are not.
2. Communication is the antidote to almost every problem
Setting up formal feedback loops should be a top priority. When you are smaller, informal 1:1’s, happy hours, and one-off meetings can be enough to get a sense of people’s thoughts and give them the opportunities to let you know their thoughts. As you grow, implementing consistent channels for frank and/or anonymous feedback is vital to staying aligned with your team. Some of the things we have done this year include:
Management OKR Process — Quarterly Objectives and Key Results help align the entire organization behind the top metrics and KPIs. You’d be surprised how misaligned folks are until you get everyone in the same room. This also allows lower level managers to gather feedback from the bottom-up to help build consensus on what’s important to them.
360 Degree Reviews — Everyone in our org gets anonymous 360 degree reviews from peers, their direct reports, and the layer above them. We’ve found that this can surface incredibly insightful feedback that helps the individual to understand how their actions are helping or hurting not only those that they report to, but everyone in the org.
Team Off-sites — Last November, we took the entire team on a 3-day cruise to Mexico. (WTF…I know, right?!) But, the investment paid for itself and then some. There’s something magical that happens when you get everyone out of the office. People relax…they let their hair down a bit and they get honest. And there is gold in those moments of honest, direct feedback. I’ve probably learned more about what my team thinks about the leadership of our company in those few moments then all my 1:1’s combined. Do not underestimate the importance of spending time away from the office as a team.
3. Have a non-business mentor
I have a team of awesome advisors and investors who are phenomenal when it comes to startups and tech. And when I have a business question….they are who I turn to. But, often times, the issues I have as a founder can’t be resolved in an excel spreadsheet. They are matters of the soul.
This job will rip you apart. It will bring you to your knees. I don’t care if you are Elon Musk or Marissa Mayer or Mark Zuckerberg … you feel pain… you have low days, low weeks, and, yes, even low months. The highs are higher than you can imagine and the lows are pretty low.
If you don’t have a personal, non-tech confident you can turn to — make it a priority to get one. Today, my wife and my dad are the two people I turn to when I’m at my lowest. And, everytime, without fail, they are there for me with doses of reality, empathy, and love.
Before I was married, when we were first starting launching Stack, I was really up and down based on the momentum of each day.I took every single day personally, and when you’re in that state, you need someone to vent and to let go. In those early days, I saw a therapist and it was the best thing I could have ever done. It helped so much that the therapist knew nothing about tech, because at the end of the day, my problems weren’t about tech, they were about emotions and feelings. Many of our problems are internal and not external as we might think. I encourage you to find someone, anyone, outside your tech circle to talk to and just let go.
4. Cash is King
Every startup has a different track. Ours is what I’ve coined as being “Seed-Strapped”. We raised a small Seed round of $800k back in 2012, but we’ve been profitable ever since so we haven’t needed to raise more funding. We’re not a completely “bootstrapped” startup, yet we also haven’t raised large rounds of institutional capital. Those two facts make a very unique creature in the startup world, but it’s a path that I would personally recommend.
Raising a Seed round gave us access to new potential partners, press, hires, and social capital that we needed to grow the business and it was well worth the dilution. But, instead of going the traditional route of raising more capital and further diluting my ownership and that of my team’s, we focused on staying cash flow positive.
Some may say it was a mistake and we could have grown much faster with capital, but I also know many hooks that come with that money. Hooks that I didn’t believe were a worthwhile trade-off. Easy capital does not equate to success and, in fact, can lead you to your demise by allowing you to go too fast too early before you figure out product-market fit. We’ve seen this all too often. Founders think that raising capital is like putting training wheels on a bicycle, but It’s akin to slapping a rocket on a tricycle.
Raising some capital gave us the connections and PR without the baggage and dilution that comes with raising large rounds of institutional money. The downside of this is that you have to be more disciplined in your spending. While your competition is moving into that shiny new office at $6.50 sqft/mo…you may find yourself subletting from their neighbor.
Regardless, the ability to stay independent, make your own decisions, and have your own path is invaluable. Take on capital wisely, even if you can raise more. I would advise you to take what you need and, if you can, get to profitability ahead of growing a few percentage points faster. Maybe that’s heresy in the startup world, but I’m a bit cynical after seeing too many startups grow quickly and fade even faster.
Here’s to the next 5 years. Good luck and Godspeed.