One of the most important thought leaders you can possibly follow in eCommerce today is Ezra Firestone, Founder of Boom by Cindy Joseph, and Smart Marketer. There are countless “experts” out there in the internet marketing space selling high-priced courses and “secret hacks” on how to build an eCommerce business, promising shortcuts to success.
Ezra’s style of documenting his journey with his 8 figure eCommerce business, and his multiple other brands, and genuinely wanting to help people create better companies shines brightly through a lot of unfortunate snake oil that exists on the teaching side of eCom. He is someone I admire greatly for his authenticity, integrity, and genuine Rockstar firsthand experience and his service to others.
No doubt one of the busiest men at Traffic and Conversion Summit 2019 (speaking 3 times, doing countless interviews, and shooting content for SmartMarketer.com), I was honored he took the time to sit down for an interview with me to talk about branding and ecommerce in 2019.
I remember years ago seeing him say “the faceless ecommerce/amazon brand is dead”, and at the time I didn’t really process the significance of this prediction. Now more than ever there are so many different knock-off and imitation products on the market competing for the same consumer dollar. There are so many advertisers competing for the advertising inventory on social media. There are so many new marketers and ecommerce businesses popping up every single day. These are some of the reasons that unbranded eCommerce ventures are simply unsustainable.
“What a brand does, is communicate with a specific group of people, sharing a specific set of experiences, and it adds value to that group, in relation to those experiences.”
Amazon represents over 50% of the money spent in eCommerce, and that will continue to grow. “They’ve got brandless ecommerce on lockdown!” Ezra chuckled. It gets FAR worse… Amazon starts to manufacture whatever products are performing best themselves, and then undercuts their branded sellers by advertising their knock-off products during the checkout process for the branded products… “but wait, you can buy our version for cheaper” pop-ups just suck!
Like many large companies, Amazon has incredible economies of scale when it comes to staffing, logistics, operational efficiencies, purchasing power and more. If you are solely selling the product based on the product itself, you are competing on price alone. When Ezra got into the game in 2005, it was possible to compete with Amazon, but now the deck is stacked way too high against you!
In order to compete – you must have a profit margin, and to have a profit margin, you have to have brand equity. Ezra recommends at least a 4 to 1 margin on profit…so buy something for $1, you have to be able to sell it for $4 or more in order to have a really solid business in eCommerce. That profit margin is what will allow you to spend money on ads, invest in customer experiences, and create great brand building content.
Another reason why building a brand is so important now because the way people consume content has changed. The average American Adult spends 3-4 hours on social networking now, and in order to participate in their lives within this environment, you have to have a brand. The brand is the “who” and the “why”, the product is the what and the product is the “what” and the benefits. If you JUST have a product, you are left out of the most significant place for consumption of media.
Why do you exist?
Who are you as a brand?
What is your story?
These are the questions that allow you to participate in the new way that people are interacting, and have a chance to build a relationship with them over time.
Additional value is going to be added wherever you can tell a story that shows you care more about how your business is conducted and its impact on the planet. Information wasn’t as readily available in previous generations as it is now, and people are far more connected. It is important people are telling the right stories about you.
A great way to get started with your brand or to shift your business towards a better brand is getting clear on what your intentions are with it. Who is it you would like to help, what would you like to help them with, what do they care about and WHY do you want to help them? Having a good quality product is important in terms of the customers’ experience, but these other questions are pivotal to building something beyond your product.
A side tip Ezra offered was that when deciding new products to develop, he shops around on Amazon for other similar products in the category and reads all of the bad reviews. In this way, you can figure out how to make an existing product a better experience for the customers and innovate in some ways that will allow you to stick out from the pack.
After you have a product that works great and can be differentiated, now you need something to say to your potential customers other than simply saying how great it is and why they should buy it. People typically need many touchpoints with your brand before they will try your product. A brand allows you to build relationships with these people.
Something we’ve both noticed in our industry is that often times Dropshippers or Amazon only business owners often do is when they start to find success and make a bunch of cash, they are quick to take that out of the business instead of reinvesting. Building a brand requires an investment in the business, so true branded eCommerce entrepreneurs always play the long game. The cash that is being made with unbranded eCommerce is a fantastic way to finance this investment.
Ezra has some of the best courses in the industry, and everybody knows it. They are a ton of fun for him to put together, but they are almost impossible to keep them current. Things are changing so rapidly in eCommerce that keeping a course up to date is nearly impossible. Ezra (like myself) found that the best way to really help people out is by having them in an environment where multiple mentors and instructors can help out, the content is continually being refreshed, and people can interact within that community.
There is a massive amount of value in simply being within the same group as other entrepreneurs working on the same things. This is why mastermind groups are so powerful and popular. Bouncing ideas off one another will unlock new ideas and opportunities for your own growth. Communities and ongoing education and interaction is the future of the course business. Courses represent a mentality that when you finish them your struggles in business will be over, whereas building a business is a process…and a fun one!
The education space in entrepreneurship and eCommerce is FULL of false prophets and “gurus” right now. A lot of them brag about their lifestyle and seem to have pretty big egos about what they have done and why someone should be following them. Ezra’s style is quite the opposite of this. His presence as an influencer is a very humble showing of who he is authentically as a person, and documenting the things he is doing that are working to share that knowledge with others. This authenticity in his personal brand is also something that should serve as a metaphor for the authenticity you must also strive for as an eCommerce brand.
“Work will fill the time that you give it.” Because a lot of entrepreneurs don’t fully understand how to put containers around their work and personal time, they can quite easily fall into the patterns of working all the time, getting stressed, not investing in relationships or hobbies. This is a fast track towards a burnout.
This is a marathon and not a sprint. The goal is to have your business support your life, and not the other way around. It can be pretty easy to forget this sometimes. After coming from having no money to being a very successful entrepreneur, Ezra says that money does not equal fulfillment. He decided very early on in his business career that his number one goal was to enjoy his life and to be able to spend time connecting with great people and building relationships.
Ezra’s three priorities with his business (in exact order) are:
- Have fun and enjoy what he does
- Make great products
- Make money doing it
A lot of people have that order completely flipped around, and this often does not set them up for a very fulfilling existence in business.
Ezra runs a fully virtual team of 86 people, all of them who embrace the idea that they don’t need to go to an office every day and can build a very satisfactory life around their job in whichever way makes the most sense to them. Happy employees always translate to better output!
You have to choose what you are chasing, because when you are financially successful then you will have had fun doing it, be more engaged in the process, and get the fulfillment you need along the way…not just at some point in time in the future when you’ve achieved a goal.
“It is a far greater skill to have the ability to enjoy what you have, then to have the ability to get what you want”. What you want becomes what you have and if you can’t enjoy what you have then what you really do?
Making the decision to be engaged and enjoying the process of building your business and having an amazing life at the same time is not just a 1-time commitment. Everyday opportunities or emergencies happen and you have to keep re-pledging to yourself that you are going to stick to this plan. It really is all about the journey, and not the destination.
Ironically when you simply commit to slowing down a bit, and being more deliberate with your time and your efforts, you actually can then get more done. Great ideas rarely come when you are fully head down on your work, they come when you have time away and are in the flow of living a great life. It sounds counter-intuitive, but when you slow down and give yourself that space, you actually speed up.