eCommerce Rockstars – EP 20 – Babak Azad

I don’t know a lot of people who have scaled a business past $1 Billion in annual revenue, so when I first met Babak Azad 3 years ago I was immediately intrigued to say the very least.  His proficiency in data-driven, direct response marketing is seldom seen in the world, and his new found passion for driving organizational growth through attention to customer experience.

Babak joined Beach Body when the company was doing $100M in revenue, but organized and professionalized the structure and analytics systems of the acquisition team to drive them past $1 billion in revenue before leaving nearly 4 years ago.

Babak works with 8-Figure and above performance, marketers helping them build out stronger and more robust brands through careful attention to the customer and the product, as opposed to simply the math behind the acquisition of the customer.

To a lot of performance marketers, the idea of building a brand is great, but it seems like something better suited for madison avenue with more qualitative results than quantitative. In reality, focusing on the product and the customer will create a far more profitable enterprise from all angles of the business

Something that Babak importantly highlights for a lot of people in this position is that brand building and direct response/performance marketing are not mutually exclusive, and both can be done harmoniously.  Performance marketing can be extremely effective but becomes a lot like a drug with an addiction to the results and numbers and near gamification that occurs with that laser focus.

The reality is that all of the ecommerce companies that are doing the best with acquisition, retention and creating real success and longevity with their business are building a brand and paying attention to customers and products at the same time as mastering math.

Having a brand also makes acquisition easier as a known and trusted entity, you can charge a premium on price, star employees want to work for cool brands, and companies will pay a premium to acquire a brand vs. a sales organization.

To get started in prioritizing where to focus your brand building efforts, you must first ask the question “ what are your business goals”.  Even if you have a lifestyle/cashflow business there is a ton of financial value in paying attention to product and customer. Depending on your personal goals as well, you might want to ask the question “would you be proud to describe exactly what you are building to your parents?”.

You ideally want to focus on how to integrate the discussion of product and customer into your day to day operations throughout each organizational compartment. Having the mindset and the lexicon of brand present throughout conversations in all areas of the business is an amazing way to direct the business towards building a brand from all angles as a way of life.

Babak used The beard Club as an example of how acquisition focused marketing efforts themselves become a part of customer experience. We really sold an identity of what it means to be a bearded man. Other companies like Loot Crate do a similar job in the way they communicate across the board with their customers and audiences.  Being attentive to all touchpoints with customers and testing out messages that should resonate can create meaningful experiences before a purchase is ever made.

It is typically difficult to find success with this kind of identity and community approach in connecting with customers when trying to appeal to multiple customer segments at once. If you are trying to market to moms and young dudes at the same time, you’ll find it much harder than if you pick a segment and make it clear that your brand is for them, and even belongs to them.

Your brand gets build everywhere – every touch point with the customer.

If you are getting overwhelmed, it is important to note that perfection in the many touchpoints and brand building areas is not something that you should be shooting for, but rather a commitment to the process.  All organizations have limits to their resources and encounter unforeseen circumstances, it’s about doing the best you can do and remaining cognizant of those touchpoints, and trying to improve them over time.

Negative feedback can almost be even louder than referrals and positive feedback, so having a great experience all around is important, particularly in subscription businesses. A great experience is as simple as allowing your customer to change their order frequency or giving them notifications before the next shipment goes out.

If you feel like you are worried about contacting your customers because the product isn’t that great, or they might not order again in favor of getting one more sale, that is indicative of a much larger problem than just mindset…. you need to take a look at what your business is actually selling and get something much better in place or you will have no longevity or true scalability.

A question that rarely gets asked, but should be more frequently, is “what are the things I should STOP doing?”. A lot of the most impactful work that Babak does with clients is subtraction and not addition. Trying to do too many things as opposed to prioritizing the most important ones is an easy way to get nowhere fast, and burnout in the process. What do people complain about the most that you have been putting off?

What is the story in your customers head? That story will either encourage them and their friends to buy, or to stay clear of what you have to offer. Pay close attention to the story that your customers are telling because it is the most important story in your business.

For most businesss, the lowest compensated person is typically customer service representatives. This signifies the nature of the disconnect that typically occurs between you the founder who has the passion for the product and the business, and the end user of the products themselves. Having the right training mechanisms in place and the organizational cadence for good experience comes in especially handy here.

Babak recommends regularly contacting customers based on different cohorts (some brand new, some multiple time customers, etc) will give you unparalleled looks into areas for a big improvement. This doesn’t always need to be done by the founder but is incredibly effective at getting actionable feedback that can be put to use in improving your brand experience.

Another great tip to measure your own performance is to order from yourself regularly and check in on your delivery times, tech integrations, post-purchase experiences, product presentation when it arrives and more. This is a simple solution but very few companies actually do it.

Spending an hour a week or even month will show you both negative and positive things about your business. The focus doesn’t always need to be poking holes, but also reinforcing and doubling down on the things that you are doing that people love.

Being such a numbers-focused person, Babak always tries to draw in the ROI of brand building efforts where possible. Sometimes it is a little more difficult to ascertain, but when the business goals are building a solid brand backed by big numbers, the ROI is always there. Harley Davidson is a great example in that they rarely buy media, but invest in local clubs and events to encourage product usage, brand affinity, and greater identity and community.

On the easier to measure the side of the equation, there are massive improvements in churn when facilitating a better skip//pause function on a subscription website.  You can see double-digit improvements on repeat customers and reducing churn when you do something as simple as getting the product to the customer as fast as possible (and also a decrease in customer support “WISMO” tickets).

Babak is driven to perform at a high level and continues to be successful largely by being connected deeply with his “why” – his family. He credits his family with the inspiration to take care of himself, continually develop, and get better at what he does every day. It sounds simple, and it is, because sometimes in the highly complex world of performance marketing, we just need to strip things down in complexity and get back to what really matters – great experiences for our customers, and in our own lives.

Video Highlights

01:05 – Babak’s origins in eCommerce and Direct Response Marketing

04:20 – Why are performance marketers building brands

07:45 – How to prioritize what moves the brand building needle most

10:15 – Picking the focused audience when building community

15:15 – If you don’t have a solid product, you’re sunk

17:25 – What are the things you should STOP doing?

20:10 – Prioritizing customer service and talking to customers

26:46 – Measuring the ROI of brand building efforts

30:31 – Babak’s secrets to achieving so much

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