Privacy, 2021, and Weathering the Pandemic

The spectrum of events that have taken place in 2020 have had a significant impact on ecommerce and the way in which consumers interact with brands. Some businesses were able to quickly pivot their strategies to adapt to the changing landscape, while others needed to completely recalibrate their approach to meet the needs of consumers deep in the midst of a global pandemic.

Robert Walters Los Angeles recruiter Courtney Lucas organized a virtual roundtable to discuss unique experiences among Los Angeles startups. The discussion was led by Ryan Dell, Global Marketing, Turtle Beach and Emily Jordan, VP of Marketing, Willow Innovations, Inc. You can watch the full recording of the webinar, here.

Indicators of recovery & growth in 2021

Many direct to consumer brands (DTC) benefitted from the influx of shoppers browsing from their couches vs. brick and mortar retail. Roundtable participants shared their strategy for understanding the new home-bound consumer.

Liz Dolinski, Chief Growth Officer at Lunya shares, “The silver lining is that now everyone wants to shop DTC, and DTC shopping as a whole is up as a share. At Lunya, we have a really small retail footprint, and that positioned us relatively well because we were already leaning into our bread and butter. We didn't have to pivot, and we weren't sitting on huge store inventory. I think consumers feel more comfort with shopping online because that’s their only choice.”

Max Lishansky, Chief Marketing Officer at Outerknown, shares how they’ve adapted their brand messaging to suit the current landscape: “At the start of COVID, we shifted our messaging to humanize the brand, starting with our email communication and social media. Certainly before the pandemic we tried to understand the demographic of our customer, but now we ask more questions, request more feedback, and engage in more conversations on Instagram."

Changing channel strategies

With so many consumer lifestyles being turned upside down, businesses had to get creative with their marketing approaches.

“Since most of our growth has come through paid advertising, we went more omnichannel, investing in direct mail, satellite radio, and podcasts. It’s a lot of trial and error, but it has expanded our ability to reach new customers that we wouldn’t have reached through paid and social alone,” shares Max. 

Ryan Dell, Global Marketing, Turtle Beach shares: “In the early days of COVID, everyone saw advertisers across the board pulling out (in hospitality, retail, and ecommerce) because people didn’t know what was going to happen. CPMs (cost per one thousand impressions) were initially much cheaper. The week the stimulus checks hit was our biggest week of the year. We pulled back on podcast, radio, and influencer marketing, (the things that were a fixed spend), and went back to Facebook and paid search. That was really effective for us.”

Matt Gehring, SVP Growth Marketing at Rothy’s adds: ‘If you were in a category that was more impacted by COVID (traveling, etc.), CPM was initially lower, but intent was lower as well, so we were left in the same position where we couldn’t take advantage of the lower CPMs. We noticed a decrease in the performance of our email marketing (lower open clicks) and add-to-cart percentages.”

TikTok discovery as an underutilized channel

TikTok has proven to be an extremely powerful tool to reach a wide range of demographics beyond Gen-Z.

Chika Okoro, Director of Marketing, Insights and Customer Strategy at FabFitFun says: “We saw success on TikTok, a channel that we didn't really pivot into because of COVID, but that we really saw success with as more and more people joined. We learned how to be part of the community and create organic content that appealed to users by staying on top of trends."

"We also made sure we weren’t doing a copy/paste across channels to give us a really good chance to see what the really successful ads look like on TikTok and not being afraid to lean in,” she continues.

Changes in product mix

Some businesses were lucky enough to have attractive products (like athleisure and sanitation products) already part of their product mix. Others sought to incorporate new products into their lines to appeal to individuals working from home and foregoing the daily commute.

“During this time, I think a brand’s existing product mix had a lot to do with their growth during 2020 and COVID. Businesses with comfort clothing and athleisure as their main offering are crushing it right now. For us, we couldn’t keep sweatpants in stock— and that’s not typically a huge part of our business,” says Max.

Chika says: “At FabFitFun, we have products across every category (fitness, beauty, fashion, tech,and home). We tried to quickly incorporate wellness and lounge products into the mix, but it was tricky because we put our POs in several months in advance. We also invested in sanitizer, and home products, but we don’t know how long people would desire those things. Right now one of our biggest challenges is knowing how to balance inventory and make sure we have a system in place to be flexible with our inventory in case these products are no longer what consumers are looking for.”

“The bottom dropped out of the market and we hit analysis paralysis when everyone was just trying to collect toilet paper,” says Liz. “Once people realized they’d be working for home, we (Lunya) saw a huge positive shift in demand. Everyone that wasn’t in the loungewear space tried to jump in there. Since we are a leader in that space, we had a lot of strategy challenges as copycats came in, and we needed to protect our brand.”

Shift towards consumer privacy

We also discussed how consumer privacy concerns (particularly stricter GDPR regulations across the UK) will impact ecommerce moving into the New Year.

“With the implementation of Google Shopping, we noticed that Google channels were prioritizing third party channels with more domain authority, despite the fact that we were the direct to consumer brand,” says Emily Jordan, VP of Marketing at Willow Innovations, Inc.

“We have a pretty big European business, and we have definitely seen the impact of GDPR. One of the solutions proposed has been email popup and SMS sign in,” adds Ryan.

“We were more impacted by CCPA (the California Consumer Privacy Act) and the recent changes to Facebook. We went with OneTrust, and we are implementing that. We are trying to do what is needed in terms of compliance. I have noticed while Holiday shopping that every website has a Cookie popup. I am curious how many people are truly concerned about tracking, and I’d like to see what solutions other businesses (like Wunderkins, who we work with) will propose in the future” shares Max.

Looking to hire marketing professionals in the Los Angeles area? Reach out to Courtney Lucas.

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